How do you explain tech topics when your audience doesn't understand the details?
Hive mind: What advice would you give to someone who has to give a presentation to a non-technical person, and it's important that the listener actually understand the details?
How do you go about it? Specific tips appreciated. Pretend it's for a friend you care about.
(This is for an article. Ideally we could refer to you by reference for context and credibility, eg "an IT security pro at a midwest insurance company" or "aerospace engineer" so please give some kind of identification to use).
I’d argue that they probably don’t need to understand the details as closely as you think. What they need to understand are the caveats and limitations of the things you’re talking about, the contexts under which is works and the contexts where it’ll be an awkward fit, or what they can expect based on how it will interact with various things.
In many cases, they may not even need to know all of that. They really just need to know under what conditions they can use it and under what conditions they should “find an adult.”
That’s all just a long winded way of saying don’t sweat how much detail they need to know, worry about what they actually need to understand based on how they will be interacting with the thing.
Use simple plain English. Where possible, avoid jargon - especially abbreviations and initialisms! Don't talk about "linking the GBF to the PJE via the KAD to achieve OTE". If you must use jargon, explain it and define it the first time you use it. "The Great Big Futz is the system that futzes the widgets. We need this system to talk to the Pretty Junky Extra because that's where the information about the widgets is stored." And so on. [It's hard to retrofit phrases for initialisms I made up with random letters!]
I've found that's usually enough. Too many techies assume that everyone speaks the same language that they do, but their language is as specialised and esoteric as doctors' or accountants'. If you explain what a GBF and PJE are, and what they do, and why they need to be connected up, most people will follow.
That's my biggest hint: avoid jargon. People aren't stupid. Their main problem is that they don't have the specialised knowledge that techies do. So, you need to explain every new word, phrase, and initialism as you go.
Another hint is to use analogies to physical things in some cases. People understand pipes and water, or fences and security guards, or filing cabinets and folders. We can see these things. We know how they work. If you've got something that has an analogy to a physical situation, borrow from that. You can use people's existing knowledge about something else, and apply it to what you're talking about.
All good presentation are fun, cater to the crowd, and focus on three key takeaways.
The methods depend on the context.
Is the purpose educational? Whiteboarding is best, with lots of opportunity to ask Q&A.
Are you selling them? Focus on the business benefits with a few slick slides, then a demonstration.
Are you seeking approval of a technical decision past an executive? Give them a couple of options with a very simple description and the pros and cons of each option.
Keep in mind the four stages of competency. If you are an expert in the subject being discussed, and your audience are novices, you might want to practice on a non-technical friend or spouse first.
If you don't often present, and are in front of a large group, rest assured that your audience is on your side and wants you to succeed.
Standard presentation tips always apply. Know your audience. Have a clear agenda. If it is important, practice, practice, practice. Introduce yourself. Start with a joke. KISS. Focus on the three key things you want the audience to walk away with. Be enthusiastic about your talk. Modulate your speed, tone and pitch. Gesture with hands. Walk the floor. Use interesting images or analogies. Tell a story. Watch the audience to see if they are tracking. Drill into areas of obvious interest, skim areas that are not. Avoid acronyms & technical terms, or at least explain what everything is. Summarize the three key things you want the audience to walk away with. Repeat your audiences question back to them before answering the question.
Most presentations are from experts and are given to novices, so standard presentation techniques apply. Know your audience, keep it fun and lively, and accept the fact that your audience will likely only remember the beginning of the presentation (your introduction) and the end of the presentation (those three key points you kept repeating.)
Source: Product Manager at a Fortune 500 tech company. I present to a wide variety of audiences and have attended numerous training courses to improve my presentation technique.
Use...analogies. Or metaphors? Similes, maybe. Smart people, would one of you please tell me what the right word is? Anyway, when we were learning about networks, data transfer rates, cables and such in computer science classes, the teacher would make things simpler by comparing network traffic to literal road traffic. This really helped us to visualize differences in speeds and advancements in technology. So, like HoolaBoola said, try to explain the concept using other things with which your audience are already familiar.
I find it important to transfer mental models I'm using to the person I'm explaining things to.
Metaphors and analogies work up to a point. What is a metaphor from your perspective, may well be a collection of inaccessible abstractions to the recepient because they can't follow the same mental routes you're using to reach the conclusion you're presenting.
When they say "Speak the other's language", what they mean is "Find a way to refer to what you know using ideas the other person has a firm grasp on". What ideas to use depends entirely on the crowd you're speaking to.
I would focus on motivation (why is this important? What could you do if you learned it?), understanding what there is to learn (what areas are interesting to dig deeper into if you need to?) and the basics needed to learn more (do they know enough of the right keywords to use a search engine)? See if you can put it all into a motivating story or structure.
Also, describing any limitations on applicability helps to understand what it can do. If it sounds like it could do anything then you don't really know it.