In this episode, Melissa Marshall will help us to understand how to bridge the gap between technical terms and business terms and present information in a meaningful way.

Melissa Marshall is on a mission to transform how scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals present their work. That’s because she believes that even the best information is destined to remain undiscovered unless it’s presented in a clear and compelling way that sparks innovation and drives adoption. In 2012, she gave a TED talk entitled Talk Nerdy to Me about the need to present complex information in an understandable manner.


After listening to this episode, you will understand:

  • Why it’s critical to be able to communicate complex information to a general audience
  • How to use an audience centered approach to make your presentation better
  • How to make numbers more meaningful
  • How to address one of the biggest challenges in presenting

Show Notes

Audience Centered speaking
Anytime you’re presenting your ideas, craft your communications considering the needs of your audience. There are three ways to employ an audience centered appoach:

1. Preparation: Think about the detail that you choose to share. You’re at risk of losing your audience if you get too much down in the weeds. To avoid this, write down where you want your audience to end up when you finish your presentation. What do you want your audience to know, believe, or understand as a result of your presentation?
Once you know that end state, you can work backwards from there to build your presentation by identifying what your audience needs to know to get to that end state.

2. Use of Visual Aids: Instead of creating slides for yourself, reminding you of the points you wish to get across, think about the impact you want to make on your audience. Cognitive science has shown us that there’s a limit to how much word based information an audience can process. Having a lot of words on a slide means that the audience has to process not only the words you say, but also the words on the slides. This causes cognitive overload. Instead of words, consider using images that do something for us that words cannot. Use charts, graphs, and images to help get your point across.

3. Language Choices: Make your language more concrete through the use of analogies, examples, and stories. This will make the information you’re sharing easier to understand and more memorable. You want your audience to be able to recall and explain your ideas to someone else after your presentation. Stories, analogies, and examples are sticky pieces of information that people will remember and give them a structure to share information.


Make Numbers Meaningful
When presenting numbers, give your audience context. Show numbers in relation to other numbers (budget, distance, size, etc.) or in the context of what that would mean to the audience. Creating an anchor point for your numbers allows your audience to form a judgment as to what that number really means.


The Biggest Challenges
The most difficult audience is a mixed audience – one with both technical and non-technical people. To address this type of audience, we must return to points of common ground. A point of common ground is something that everyone in the room understands.
Plan throughout your presentation for points at which you provide a wrap-up of technical concepts and return to common ground.

“You’re only as successful as how well your message is received.”


Melissa’s Tip
When creating a presentation, start with a blank template instead of the text / bullet based template. Instead, use meaningful images and put text in the notes pages that can be shared after the presentation.


What’s Your Take?
Do you have any tips or suggestions for communicating technical information to a general audience?  Please share in the comments below.



Links mentioned in this episode

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