This is a common job posting in the 21st century:
Ability to communicate with all levels of management.
Ability to communicate effectively orally.
Today’s positions increasingly require exacting technical specialization and deep expertise in narrow methodological processes. That expertise is essential and it’s understandable why the focus of the hiring process is on those skillsets.
Once on the job, however, it’s clear that successful personnel need more. While technical expertise is a pre-requisite, oral communication is essential to success.
That’s because complex projects require deep collaboration between individuals with dramatically different backgrounds—engineers, scientists, sales staff, customer support specialists, business executives, regulators, customers, and others.
But communicating technically dense information to diverse audiences is as difficult as becoming an expert in AVN Cloud architecture, whatever that is.
Fortunately, there is an algorithm for successfully communicating technical information to diverse audiences. Here’s the code:
Always begin with the real-world problem you’re attempting to solve.
The operable phrase is ‘real-world.’
Don’t immediately jump into the technical problem.
For example, “access bottlenecks and multi-user interference in reverse (uplink) and forward (downlink) operations of a multi-modal network ” was a problem for the nascent mobile phone industry, but it is NOT a real-world problem. The real-world problem was when customers received the dreaded “all circuits are busy, please try your call again later” message.
Starting any technical conversation with a real-world account of the problem—one that any audience member can see/feel/understand—is essential to successfully contextualizing technical information.
Break complex processes into distinct, discrete steps and articulate them clearly.
Chip and Dan Heath, in their NYT Best Seller Made to Stick describe the problem of knowing too much. They call it the “curse of knowledge,” and it is a major roadblock to effective communication.
The curse of knowledge rears its ugly head when experts lose themselves in the minutia and interconnectivity of a problem.
One clear way to combat the curse of knowledge is to divide your content into segments and very clearly distinguish between them. (e.g., “To overcome this challenge, we need to do three things: redesign how devices initially contact our towers, streamline the ‘handshake’ between the device and our network, and keep one user’s connection from interfering with the connection of others.”)
Repeatedly bring things back to the big-picture idea.
When presenting technical information, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.
To keep your audience on track, you must repeatedly lift them out of the fray and reorient them to the relatable problem that you started with. Let them know how each section of your content relates back to the original, real-world problem.
Use eye contact, gestures, and other tools of interaction to establish a bond with your audience.
When communicating with terminals, all that is necessary is the correct commands and syntax. That isn’t the case with humans.
People require connection; a feeling of shared experience.
To create that common bond, speakers must be purposeful in how they interact with their audience. This includes talking to them and not simply at them. Asking them questions (rhetorical or actual). Inviting them to react to and personalize the real-world problem. Displaying emotive visual images and avoiding slides filled with text, technical jargon, and painstaking detail. And most fundamentally, making genuine eye contact with them.
So whether you’re a computer scientist, quantitative analyst, professional engineer, or any other of the thousands of technical experts out there, give yourself a better probability of success by executing this algorithm to frame, partition, orient, and connect your information to the big-picture and your audience. Not only will this allow you to clearly communicate with diverse collaborators, it will earn you a rare professional accreditation as an adept translator of technical information.
Now if only someone would help me program my television’s universal remote control, I’d be all set.