Communicating technical information to non-technical personnel
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Any given project can have a lot of stakeholders, including senior and executive management, employees, stockholders, customers, and so on. These stakeholders are interested in your project, its current status, features and functions, and how it works.
The success or failure of your project might depend on your ability to explain to your stakeholders what the technology in question is, how it is developed and used, and why it will benefit them. It’s important that you get this information right, that you don’t gloss over problem areas, and that the expected outcomes are clear. And if you get buy-in on the project, you’ll have to keep your stakeholders educated, engaged, and up to date on project status.
This might not be as easy as it sounds, especially when you are working with people who have varying degrees of technical knowledge.
Tips for communicating with non-technical stakeholders
There are really only a few approaches to explaining technical or any kind of information:
- Use text-heavy documents and presentations
- Present charts, graphs, workflows, and other visualizations
- Produce videos and animations
- Use a combination of all of the above
The following tips can help you as you determine which approach to take when talking to your stakeholders.
Who is your audience?
Before you take any kind of approach, you should think about who your audience is. As you get to know your stakeholders, you’ll get a sense of where they have areas of expertise and the level of their technical knowledge. This way, you won’t waste time explaining stuff they already know. However, it’s okay to quickly review the things they already know so you can introduce how it fits with the new concepts you are explaining.
In an audience with different levels of expertise, it’s a balancing act to find the right level of information that is not too simple for the more technical people and is not too complex for those who are less technical. You’ll want to be thoughtful. It’s best to not give the impression that you are oversimplifying for specific members of your audience.
It will take some time and practice to find the right balance of information that is right for your audience. Be observant of body language and the overall tone of the room. You’ll quickly learn when it’s time to move on and when you need to spend more time on certain information.
Tone down technical jargon
The tech world has more than its fair share of technical jargon. Chances are that many in your audience won’t understand a lot of the technical phrases and acronyms you use every day as you work with developers and engineers. Jargon can make some people feel left out.
This does not mean that you should avoid using technical terms. Just make sure that the meaning is as clear as possible. For example, when you say CTR, are you talking about click-through rate, a cost time resource sheet, or something else? It’s better to say exactly what you mean instead of relying on your audience’s understanding of an acronym.
And if there is no better way to say something, be sure to say it in a context that is easy to understand. Your audience will understand what you are telling them if you explain things clearly and accurately.
Focus on results
End results are usually what matter the most to stakeholders. Don’t spend too much time talking about the design of the technology or how you will build it. You’ll need to be able to tell them how your technology will meet their business needs and solve their problems. Talk about the technology in relation to the final product. Describe what it will look like, how it works, what the user can do with it, and how it will make the user’s life easier.
You might find that some people will nod their heads but not understand what you are saying and are too embarrassed to ask questions. As you go through your presentation, pause and ask things like, “Am I making sense?” and “Are there any questions?” Create an atmosphere where stakeholders feel comfortable asking for clarification and starting conversations.
And when someone asks questions, never say things like, “I just went over that.” Instead, say things like, “Good question” and “I’m glad you brought that up.” This lets them know that you are open to conversation.
The power of using visuals to communicate technical concepts
You’ve heard the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This is true because of how our brains process information. We live in a visual culture with images all around us. Colors, shapes, and patterns keep our attention much better and for longer periods of time than text by itself.
So when you are communicating technical information to non-technical personnel, storytelling with data visualization can be powerful.
Technical visualization uses dynamic colors, shapes, and flows to give meaning to technical concepts and the complexities behind your technology and products. Use simple, clear visuals to help your audience understand and retain information. Avoid complicated visuals with dense graphics, unusual colors, and flows that are difficult to follow.
Presenting information visually engages your stakeholders, encourages collaboration, and invites better and more timely feedback.
Determine the right visual presentation for your audience
Using simple maps and flowcharts is an effective way of helping non-technical stakeholders to understand and digest data. Determine which type of chart is right for your audience.
Line charts are good for plotting changes over a specified period of time and are easy to read and interpret. Moving from left to right, points are connected by line segments to represent changes in value. For example, you might use a line chart to show current sales figures compared to sales figures you project when your new product is released.
Bar charts are useful for displaying and comparing categorical data and for showing relationships between different data groups. On one axis of the chart, use simple rectangular bars and colors to represent different categories. The other axis is used to display a measured value. For example, a bar chart showing website subscriptions might include categories such as gender, age, geographic location, etc. A measurable value might represent the number of subscribers in millions, as a percentage, and so on.
If you need to show stakeholders potential functionality, you might want to consider using a wireframe. A wireframe is a simple diagram or a set of diagrams that represent a website or application interface. Simple lines and shapes help you to explain core functionality and workflow.
Most people know how to read a map. So if you are presenting statistical regional information, a map might be a good medium because it’s a quick and easy way to show large or complex sets of geographic data.
Flowcharts are good for explaining data flows, processes, workflows, step-by-step procedures, and more. With a few simple lines, boxes, and other shapes, you can create a flowchart to help you visualize just about any idea, concept or project. Each shape has a specific meaning, which makes it easy for your audience to understand and follow the flow.
Pie charts are sometimes frowned upon because it can be difficult to compare different sections of the chart or compare data across related pie charts. But you might want to work with a pie chart if you want to display percentages of various categories. Just be sure that you don’t try to add too many categories to the pie chart and make sure the total percentages add up to 100.
Software that does the work for you
There is software you can use to make it easier to visualize complex systems. You’ll want to use apps that allow you to present from anywhere to stakeholders and other interested parties, no matter where they are physically located. Software that allows you to store and access documents in the cloud is great when you can’t get everybody together in the same room.
For example, the Lucidspark brings remote parties together to brainstorm ideas and collaborate in a meaningful way. And Lucidchart has an extensive library of templates that will help you to create simple, easy-to-understand charts and maps that invite group participation and bring clarity to projects.
Visualize and understand complex systems with Lucidchart.
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