Over the past decade or so I have been working in various highly technical environments as a network and systems engineer. During this time I have often struggled with how to effectively communicate to a diverse audience where technical people are mixed in with the “less than technical”.
I am lucky enough to have a blend of personality and technical ability that some of those I have worked with seem to lack. Because of this I am frequently assigned tasks that require me to communicate with senior management and other groups, both internal and external. Often this requires that I find a way to communicate highly technical information to non-technical people. At first, I had a tendency to assume that there was a baseline of knowledge in the audience that would allow me to speak to them as if I were speaking to a technical peer. Obviously, this approach failed and I had to devise a new strategy that wouldn’t alienate those who were stronger in business and lacked technical understanding. My next approach involved a lot of analogies and “dumbing things down” a bit. This approach was failed and I not only made the technical members of the audience bored I also made the non-technical members feel like I was talking to them the way they talk to their children.
More recently I think I have found a way to live in the grey area between “baby talk” and “tech jargon” that seems to be more effective. While I present technical information I try to pause and make statements like “is everyone on the same page” or “do we understand …” When possible I also try to make sure that everyone is visually engaged and not drifting off. Presenting or publishing for a diverse audience is always be a struggle for me and something that I will always have to work hard to improve on.