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The Best Communication Strategies to Engage a Technical Audience

Posted by Bridget Beirne on September 17, 2015

by Bridget Beirne

bridget-beirne-1Years ago, I worked at a conference that I'll never forget. The new, exciting, and amazing technology introduced at that time? The 3D printer. (That might give you an idea of when it was...) In a room full of people, I watched presentation after presentation of the latest technical innovations. All day, my attention was held. 

Now, I'm not exactly what one would describe as a "technical audience": a professional actor who works in communication skills. However, much of the audience WAS a tech crowd. Folks who understood this technology inside and out, and knew all of the developments that lead up to these achievements, as well as where they would go next.

Did the speakers achieve their goal of engaging this technical portion of audience? Absolutely. These presenters clearly did their homework. They truly thought about the technical audience in the crowd, and it showed.

Here are some communication strategies to ensure that your technical audience leaves your presentation with everything you want them too, and more:

1. Audience analysis isn't optional: It's not enough just to say "Oh, they're all engineers/developers/technical people." That's kind of like saying, "Well, all of these people are chefs, so I'm going to just jump in with this advanced sushi knife technique." Your audience is undoubtedly intelligent enough to figure it out, but you're setting yourself up for 2 things:

  • A general wash in your "conversation." We speak to different people differently. We don't speak to our boss the same way we speak to our mother. (Unless your boss IS your mother, but I digress...) You won't be really thinking about everyone with whom you will be speaking.
  • The potential to exclude those in your audience who might not fit neatly into that general group. Imagine being at a party and only speaking to one person, all night. Chances are, the rest of the guests wouldn't really be that interested in what you have to say, since you were showing no interest in them. That's essentially what you're doing.

(Incidentally, this matters for business writing, as well! This great post from our friends at PMG talks about why it's important to really know your technical audience in your written communication.)

2. Find your Presentation Objective: Actors have to find their Objective in any piece. It's what they want overall in the play, and it will inform every decision they make as they develop their performance. The same goes for a presenter. You want your audience to do something. Think about the specific thing you want your technical audience to do, and yes - make it a verb. Do you want them to adapt their old systems? To correct a product flaw? To develop the next step in the program? Be specific. It will inform how you present. (Want to go in-depth with Presentation Objectives? Our free eBook lets you do just that!)

3. Manage expectations at the top: You're about to unload a lot of data on your audience. A LOT. Help communication-strategiesmanage their expectations. Tell them your Presentation Objective, as well as some key points, during your introduction. You'll prepare your audience to organize and compartmentalize all of this data so they can make sense of it later.

4. And remind them along the way: The great playwright Bertolt Brecht wanted to find a way to help an audience objectively receive the messages in his plays, without becoming distracted by too much emotional involvement. This way, they could truly think about what they were seeing. He called it "epic drama." One of the techniques he developed was to use placards, placed on the edge of the stage, to tell the audience exactly what was about to happen in each scene. As a result, they weren't surprised by what was coming, and they could just take it in.

So, now you can answer "Who is Bertolt Brecht?" when you hear a question like this on Jeopardy!. But what does this have to do with engaging a technical audience? As presenters, our goal may be different than Brechts (we don't want to emotionally isolate our audience), but we can steal something from the Brechtian approach. Just like the placards in each scene, remind your audience what's about to happen at the top of every section. It will help them take in the data and stats you're dishing out, without getting lost in the mire and wondering "Where's she going with this?". They know where you're going, so they can simpy put the pieces together to get there. 

(Bonus Fact: If you love the lyrics to the song "Mack the Knife," thank Bertolt Brecht.)

5. Don't be afraid to tell a story: You know how we feel about business storytelling. It's a must. It's essential. And even the most technically-oriented audience will appreciate an appropriate and well-told story in your presentation. Need some help getting started? Check out Storytelling for Business Made Simple: 5 Chief Guidelines.

Remember not to simply let data dominate with a technical crowd. Think about specific communication strategies like these for your audience, and bring your stats to life. 

Do you often present to technical crowds? What's your approach? Let us know in the comments below!

And don't forget about our free eBook!:

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