3 Tips for Talking Tech to Non-Techies

Geeks do it. Bankers do it. Even scientists and engineers do it. And I’m not talking about “falling in love”. These groups are often accused of speaking a lingo the rest of us can't understand. By lapsing into insider talk, tech terms and acronyms it's easy for a speaker, no matter what their background, to leave an audience in the dark.

Think of a topic you know intimately. Now imagine trying to explain it to someone who knows nothing about it. To paraphrase the psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, we're often unconscious of what we know and assume other people know it as well. That’s a sure recipe for poor communication.

You can make technical topics clear to non-experts, especially if you're willing to address your subject from the point of view of the listener. Follow the tips below for great results:

• Instead of getting caught up in the detail of how a system or device works, focus on explaining how people will use it. Let’s say your organization just unveiled a digital information storage system. Rather than emphasizing the system's features, chart the paths users will follow to submit and retrieve data.

• Describe the results users will see when they do use a new process or gizmo. This is the old idea of highlighting the benefits and advantages to the audience rather than the technical features. Explain the changes as they pertain to people. For instance, you could emphasize how a new doohickey will help users work faster, or better, or save time.

• Use an analogy that reflects your listeners' experience. You might compare the act of accessing the new information storage system to checking out and returning library books; only users will be able to do both transactions from their desks.

Photo: Leo Laporte and guests talk to twit.tv viewers and podcast listeners from the TWIT Brick House in Petaluma CA.