How To: Speaking to a Non-Technical Audience

As a technical person, someday you might have the opportunity to give a presentation or talk to non-technical audiences. While that might seem simple at first glance it can prove itself to be daunting. Thankfully, things get easier with awareness.

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Here are 6 things to keep in mind that could help you.

These tips are applicable to other professions as well, for example, when there is a need for a medical professional to talk to a non-medical audience.

1. Know your audience

It is very important to know whom you are about to present to and why this talk is important to them. Feel free to ask the organizer a few questions about the audience.

2. Be careful of jargon and technical abbreviations

Be extremely careful with the use of jargon and non-common abbreviations. If you cannot break a term/abbreviation/jargon down and explain what it actually means, or you are not intending to, it is best to not make mention of it, at all. Making mention of terms you cannot explain is the fastest way to lose the interest of a non-tech audience.

3. Balance your assumptions

Do not assume they know what you are talking about and at the same time do not assume they don’t. In order to figure out how to balance things you need to know your audience (step 1). I was once in a tech event with attendees working at top tech companies. Someone asked what is “Twitter” and I was shocked. I thought everyone working at a tech company knows what it is, but that is not always the case. When talking about an app, software, or tool it is good to explain what it does briefly. This also applies to when talking about other terms such as web laws and policies. Instead of describing the policy by its given name alone, describe what that law or policy means in a nutshell.

4. Make them feel like your future potential collaborators

Do not make them feel that you are better than them (I’m not saying you do, but this is a general statement). Some technical people act as if they are better than non-tech people, avoid being that person. That is another sure way to make them disinterested in whatever you have to say.

Make them feel like your future potential collaborators, that even though are in non-technical roles you respect what they do.

5. Use your slides as a way to reinforce concepts

When it comes to slides, work on making your slides explanatory yet still brief (or provide extra notes). Try to avoid the 1 photo slide where it is expected of the audience to decipher the meaning of the picture.

As the saying goes:

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

so let your audience know what you mean!

A slide depicting an image alone usually does not help in such occasions, except if you are going to explain what it means or your intention is to make the audience curious.

6. Know things they know

Some technical people are knowledgeable in things within their domain. If you want to ahead of those people, know things that could be outside of your expected scope but are closely related to the background of your audience. Know what makes most of them excited about their industry, and leverage that to build rapport.

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “How To: Speaking to a Non-Technical Audience

  • May 12, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Gloria!

    I learned about you from the lovely Havi Hoffman. She gave a very moving talk at Write the Docs.

    I’d be happy to know you and hope our paths will cross in the future!

    • May 22, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      Hello Camille!

      Apologies for the late reply. It’s nice to e-meet you! Havi told me about you! I’ll get in touch!


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