04 October 2016

Communication for technical experts: #1 Put your audience first

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Technical experts, who specialise in analytical professions such as technology, finance and engineering, often don’t think of themselves as great communicators.

If you specialise in these areas, you are often great with numbers and analysis, and see those aspects as more interesting and comfortable than communication.

This is because you probably believe that communication is an art.

What if we told you that your analytical skills grounded in logic and synthesis—combined with your technical expertise—give you an unfair advantage in drawing powerful insights from complex material?

You will be pleased to know that the ‘science’ of communication is just as important as the ‘art’.

In this blog series, we will talk about three distinct things you can do to start mastering the science of communication:

  1. Focusing on your audience, more than on your analysis
  2. Focusing on what your data means, more than on the data itself
  3. Allowing enough time to synthesise your ideas into a tight story

So, let’s talk about the first one of these today.

The first step toward mastering this science is to accept that communication is as much—if not more—about your audience than it is about you.

You are passionate about your subject, you have done exhaustive research, and you are excited to describe every twist and turn in your problem-solving journey.

You believe that to help the audience appreciate your main finding, you need to provide the background—all of it—before you get to the main insights.

However, your audience needs you to do the opposite: they need you to start with the main point and the high level context so they can then understand what to do with all of the details.

The good news is that preparing your communication this way also forces you to think through what all of your details actually mean to your audience, rather than what they mean to you.

So, be kind to your audience. Start with the main point, and the top level supporting points.

Especially if your results are provocative or controversial.

That will pique their interest and switch their curiosity on, rather than confuse them and make them wonder how they could join the dots. Or, worse, cause them to draw the wrong conclusions.

So, instead of telling them something like this:

Hi Emperor Palpatine,

To make testing easier, I am planning on running the complete history of the weapon launch scripts on Monday so they can be tested in their entirety. Testing will involve testing Outrider weapon metrics, Rogue Shadow weapon metrics and Ebon Hawk weapon metrics. We will be moving ahead with the analysing of the Death Star tomorrow (Saturday) and will share the scripts along with the results as we go, to minimise the impact to our schedule. This will push our timeline for the signoff out by one day, but will make the testing a lot clearer because we will not have to consider historical metadata changes reflected in one ship but not the other. While it pushes our overall timeline out for the Death Star by a day, I believe it will reduce the amount of work required overall and simplify the testing process.

We will then build the new Death Star tables on Monday to be tested Monday evening our time, afternoon Empire Standard Time, so sign off and final productionisation can be done on Tuesday.

How does that sound?

Regards,
Darth

Tell them something like this:

Emperor Palantine,

I am concerned about the complexity of our current weapon launch system testing process, and suggest a way to reduce the workload while simplifying it.

If we run my new testing process on Monday and Tuesday, that will shorten testing time while making sure we are ready to destroy the Rebel planet.

Here is my proposed process:

  1. Analyse Death Star tomorrow (Saturday) and share the scripts along with the results as we go, to minimise the delay.
  2. Run a complete history of weapon launch system scripts on Monday, to reduce the need to consider historical metadata changes reflected in one ship but not another. To achieve this, test weapon metrics for the following ships:
    • Outrider
    • Rogue Shadow
    • Ebon Hawk
  3. Push out our sign-off timeline by one day so that we:
    • Test the new Death Star tables on Monday (evening our time; afternoon Empire Standard Time)
    • Sign off and undertake final productionisation on Tuesday.

Please confirm by COB today that you agree with this approach so we can proceed.

Regards,
Darth

 By providing the main point at the beginning, you provide a framework for listeners to make sense of subsequent supporting points.

That was the first of three things you could do to master the science of communication. To develop this ability further, consider applying it in your next email, article or presentation.

Next week’s post will talk more about how you can construct your communication to highlight what your data means, not just what it is.

Free eBook. Read more about this topic in the eBook 'Turning Technical Experts into Effective Communicators', which you may like to download by clicking on the image below. At the back of the eBook are useful links, including a recording of the webinar I presented in collaboration with Velpic.

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About Davina Stanley. Davina is a Strategic Communication Specialist who helps executives make the complex clear and the clear compelling in their problem solving and communication. She has 20 years' experience coaching and enabling professionals to clarify and communicate complex ideas so they can get their main points across quickly (ideally within 30 seconds).