Technical Presentation Tip: Clarify, Don’t Dumb It Down

Christopher Witt —  August 14, 2013

Clarify Technical Material

Technical presentations are about helping audiences understand complex material so that they can do something with it (approve, endorse, implement, discuss, etc.).

Here are 7 Tips for Clarifying Complex Ideas without Dumbing them Down

1. Respect the intelligence of your audience.

You may present to professionals from different fields, departments, and companies. Although they may not share your expertise, they are not stupid. Treat them as ignorant (not knowledgeable about your topic), but intelligent (capable of learning).

2. Pursue one goal.

The goal of a presentation is to communicate just enough material so that your audience can do something with it. Know what you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you. Then decide what they need to know in order to do it. Eliminate everything else.

3. Focus.

Sum up the one central idea of your presentation in a single sentence. Eliminate all unnecessary information. Your job as an expert is to prioritize: to emphasize the critical over the beneficial.

4. Lead with the conclusion.

You were taught, as a technical expert, to analyze the facts (as many as possible) in order to draw conclusions. If you follow that rule while presenting, you will lose your audience. Instead, lead with your conclusion and follow it with enough information to substantiate and illustrate it. The military refer to this approach as B.L.U.F. (bottom line up front).

5. Use an analogy.

An analogy explains new information by relating it to information people already know. When your idea, system, process, or product is relatively unknown, compare it to an idea, system, process, or product that your audience already understands.

6. Tell stories.

Stories convey a lot of information in a narrative form, making it easy to follow, and they motivate people to take action. You can tell a story about 1) how your idea helped someone overcome an obstacle, 2) how it connected people to one another in a beneficial way, or 3) how it created an insight or mental breakthrough, solving a puzzle or attacking a problem in an innovative way.

7. Make the most of Q&A.

Q&A is one of the most important elements of any technical presentation, not an afterthought. For every ten to twelve minutes that you talk, allow three to four minutes of Q&A.


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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.