Public Speaking Techniques for Technical People

What are the best public speaking techniques for conveying technical information to a non-technical audience? To be able to get ahead in your career, it’s important to be able to articulate your message clearly and concisely in a way that engages an audience.

This can be a challenge when trying to get complicated information across.

Talking to your tribe is easy

Scientists and engineers are most comfortable presenting information to their peers and can find it very different when presenting to a non-technical group.

With a science or technical background, you are likely to enjoy presenting to your tribe who fully understand and appreciate your area of expertise.

You feel at home, you speak the same technical language and you can maintain their curiosity with your data-rich content.

You know you are doing a good job when you present as your audience nod in agreement while you deftly flick through your deck of data-rich slides, rattling off numbers, formulas, and strings of jargon.

Your peers will thank you for the detail and analytical information and the way you present your data accurately…

And then there’s the rest of us.

Deliver the same presentation to a group of non-technical people and the results will be different. You may be met with a few polite head nods at first, but beyond the good manners, people will get bored and fidgety, their eyes will glaze over and they may end up nodding off!

Increasingly, technical information is presented to non-technical audiences (or a speciality that may be totally different).

You may be pitching in a start-up competition, rallying for future funding or presenting to the board of directors.

When considering public speaking techniques for these scenarios, the first rule of thumb is: Don’t assume these people think as you do. Learn to change your delivery style to accommodate a non-technical audience.

There are some presenters who don’t bother to change their public speaking techniques, delivery or material, as they feel that their research or work will be considered dumbed down if they do. If you think that way then best to leave your ego out of it.

You may be the smartest person on the planet with an amazing idea for a life-changing product or innovation, but if you cannot get that across in a clear, concise and captivating way then it’s very likely your idea will gather dust along with all those other technical journals left unread.

Being able to explain your complex data to anyone is an essential skill to have if you want to influence and connect with people from all walks of life. After all, you have spent a long time coming up with your start-up idea, researching and collating your data or testing your product, but it doesn’t matter how good your idea is if you cannot present it in a clear, articulate way. No matter how good your public speaking techniques, people won’t be interested if you can’t get your message across.

The idea of using an elevator speech formula for scientists presenting their research has been trialled by a group of graduates at the School of Biomedicine in Houston. The students took part in an elevator speech competition, partly to improve their public speaking skills but also to practice delivering scientific material in a way that anyone can understand.

According to the contest organizer Carrie Cameron, the brief was that the speech had to be intelligible, less than 90 seconds and FUN!

This style of presenting encouraged to students to be creative in their language and delivery style, coming up with metaphors from ordinary thinking to help non-scientists understand their material.

One of the students who studied ovarian cancer explained how the cancer cells knew how to “adjust the thermostat” and that similar to the air conditioner, cancer cells are able to adjust to the surroundings by the right amount.

Another presenter explained complex mutations in proteins by breaking it down into the simple metaphor of a city.  The cell is the city, the nucleus is the city hall and the mitochondria the power plants, the lysosomes as the city’s waste plant and the endosome the rubbish truck that transports the waste. Anyone can understand that metaphor.

Scientists or technical folk may be resistant at first to this style of communication, but there is no point baffling people with a scientific explanation if they don’t get it. They will switch off and walk away with nothing.

Over the past couple of years, I have helped many scientists and engineers understand the need to be able to communicate effectively with a non-technical audience and adjust their public speaking techniques accordingly. Sometimes it may work out well to have two versions of a presentation:

One that you deliver to peers with all the jargonistic “bells and whistles” and the other version, a visually rich (and data-poor) simple presentation with a balance of logic and emotion that is told in an engaging and fun way.

7 top tips for technical people who want to talk to the rest of us

  1.  Start off with an interesting attention-grabbing opening. Don’t get straight into the hardcore stuff.
  2. Use visually rich and data-poor slides.
  3. Get the balance between the logic and the emotion (especially important if you want to influence).
  4. Don’t speak too fast, allow adequate pauses to give the audience time to reflect.
  5. Use metaphors to explain a complex topic in everyday things and paint visual word pictures.
  6. Make it fun and engaging – if you present your material like you are really enjoying it the audience will too.
  7. Keep it short and simple. Avoid cramming too much information into your presentation, stick to less than five main points and ensure your presentation is structured so that it flows well.

Adapt your presentation style so that your non-technical audience will appreciate your work.


As a storytelling expert, known as The Story Midwife, I help leaders to create compelling presentations through business storytelling.

Before becoming a Professional Speaker, I worked for over twenty years as a midwife.

I now live and breathe stories as a speaker, trainer, performer and coach.

As a World Class Speaking & Storytelling Coach, I’ll help you mine, refine and deliver a captivating story for your business or brand. Whether it is the boardroom, podium or stage; I can show you how to develop a persuasive presentation with a compelling story that will be hard to forget by anyone who gets to experience it.

If you would like to find out about training for your team, I’d love to hear from you.  Contact me lisa@speakingsavvy.com.au or call +61 (0)438 902042.