How do you know if a technical presentation–or any presentation for that matter–is effective?
I think there’s one answer to that question. Technical presentations are effective when your audience is able to do something with the information being presented.
The top three attributes or qualities of an effective presentation are:
- Clarity: Your material may be complex and sophisticated–technical information often is–but your presentation has to be clear to the audience you’re addressing. You may have the latest and greatest information available, but what good is it if no one understands what you’re talking about?
- Accuracy: You don’t have to present everything you know about the topic at hand. (Most of the time, you shouldn’t present everything you know.) But everything you do present has to be reliable. You may not have to prove its accuracy in your presentation, but you should be able to do so if called upon. If people have reason to doubt even one part of your presentation, they’ll doubt everything else about it.
- Engagement: The important thing isn’t for you to say what needs to be said. The important thing is that the audience hears, understands, and appreciates what you say. That’s one reason why it’s so important to encourage the audience to ask questions during (not just at the end of) your presentation.
The Means Versus the Ends of an Effective Technical Presentation
The attributes of an effective presentation (clarity, accuracy, engagement) are the means to an end. The goal is to give the audience information that they can use.
(Let me make it clear that I’m talking about technical presentations in the business arena. Academic presentations are another thing altogether.)
People are busy. They sit through countless presentations every week: briefs, project updates, proposals, training sessions, sales presentations, roundtable discussions. And they tune most of them out. Why? Because they don’t know what they can possibly do with the information they’re being subjected to.
Audiences always ask, “Why do I need to know this information? What can I do with it? How is it going to help me?”
So don’t make them guess. Tell them how they can use the information you’re presenting to make their lives easier. Show them how your information will help them solve a problem that affects them. (If it doesn’t affect them–either directly or indirectly–why are you talking to them about it?)
Will your idea / information help them get more done? Be more accurate? Avoid costly mistakes? Save time or money? Add capability? Satisfy customers? Gain respect? Advance their own research?
So the first step in planning a technical presentation–if you want to make it as effective as possible–is to figure out what the audience can do with the information you’re presenting. And to do that, you have to know why they would want to do anything at all with it.
Don’t present information simply for its own sake. People don’t have the time for that. Give them information they can use to their benefit, and they’ll love you. (Or, at least, they’ll respect and listen to you.)