Simplifying Complex Concepts for Non-Technical Audiences

Very bright researchers and technical professionals are often challenged to explain complex concepts in a simple way that can be understood by non-technical audiences. Relying on the alphabet soup of acronyms and arcane terminology from their subject matter expertise can lead both the technical presenter and non-technical audience to a frustrating impasse in understanding.

A common example of such miscommunication is when a new product needs to be presented to customers in a way that quickly conveys how the product benefits the user rather than all of the technical details of the product.

This kind of miscommunication also occurs within business enterprises when a novel technical idea is on its way to becoming a product. The idea needs to be explained to marketing, sales, and support associates so everyone understands key points and can fulfill their roles in the enterprise. In these and other cases, technical professionals can improve communications in several ways:

  1. Reduce difficult terminology. Yes, technical terms are more precise and meaningful but if a non-technical person doesn’t understand their meaning then they are quickly lost. Look for plain English words as substitutes. Would you prefer your physician to talk about your unguis incarnatus or your ingrown toenail?
  2. Use analogies to common events and processes. Don’t expect your audience to happily jump into the deep end of powder metallurgy as you present your new sintering method. How could you explain the process of using heat to impart strength with a comparison to something else that the audience would understand?
  3. Keep it short. We all feel most comfortable when speaking about topics that are familiar to us. If you have a PhD’s worth of information, then you may be inclined to share it all – which is way too much for someone outside of your subject matter expertise. Keep it brief and regularly check in with your audience by asking “does that make sense” or “do you have any questions”?
  4. Listen. This one sounds simple but can often be the most difficult. Don’t anticipate what the audience may ask, and don’t focus on the next thing you would say. Instead, remember that your goal is to educate your audience. While others don’t have your level of expertise, they can grasp advanced ideas with your help. Give others the benefit of the doubt when they ask a question that may seem simplistic to you but that you may need to explain in plain terms.

While the suggestions above may seem simple on their face, they can be elusive to technical professionals who are immersed in the scientific and engineering aspects of their work. Ringbolt has worked with clients to create content that bridges the understanding gap between technical professionals and non-technical audiences in clear and engaging ways, including:

  • An article published in Business North Carolina Magazine regarding BNNano, a start-up firm, and their amazing technology.
  • An article published in Golf Business Magazine informing readers of a novel medical device that citizen responders can use to assist others during breathing medical emergencies.
  • A white paper for the medical device above.
  • A post that explains in simple terms research on Artificial Intelligence to predict healthcare outcomes.
  • A post on the InBody USA blog discussing detoxification diets in down-to-earth language.

Clear communication of technical concepts between technical and non-technical audiences can make or break your internal progress and your customer relations.

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