Three tips to avoid stumbling over technical terms

Technical terms in your presentation: is that allowed?

Of course! But only if they are really necessary. Because all too often we use them, simply to impress. Or because we are too lazy to look for a simpler alternative. Or because we don’t realize that the majority of our audience isn’t familiar with the word.

Take the example of secondary raw materials from aqueous streams. Sorry, come again?

A bioengineer will surely understand what is being discussed. And at a conference on secondary feedstocks from aqueous streams, feel free to use this term without reserve.

But often you will have a mixed audience at your hands. And in that case you can’t be throwing around such technical terms.

By secondary raw materials from aqueous streams, the bioengineer meant that we can extract and reuse metals such as boron, chromium and cobalt from industrial wastewater. Now you probably understand. What makes the difference? The explanation is now concrete, without hollow concepts.

You can do this as well.

Tip 1. Choose a canoe instead of a speedboat

I’m amazed at the ease with which some experts wave around specialist terms, with the fiercest of tongue twisters effortlessly rolling from their lips. But their audience is often left speechless following this waterfall of words.

Sometimes attendees know a specific term, but don’t hear exactly what you’re saying. Perhaps because you’re mumbling or flying through your words.

For instance, during one of our feedback sessions a lawyer used the term ‘inherent risks’. Not remarkably technical you would think, but several participants indicated that they had not heard it correctly.

So when you use less straightforward words, remember:

  • slow down your speech
  • exaggerate your articulation
  • make sure your words don’t blend together.

Tip 2. Put it on a slide

Imagine a speaker presenting her research on the Transdisciplinary Learning Community approach. While she may have applied each of the tips from step 1, the topic remains a lot to digest.

If a slide were to appear containing the words “Transdisciplinary Learning Community approach” in large type, that would surely help the audience to grasp the term. Less is more, so place only that single term on the slide.

Tip 3. Never in your first sentence

The first few seconds under a cold shower, can you imagine it? You gasp and wish you could get out as soon as possible. A similar effect is seen when you begin waving around technical terms in the very first sentence of your presentation.

Instead make your first sentence simple and clear for everyone, without immediately scaring off your audience. Drop in the technical terms, once your audience is warmed up. But first share those real-world examples.

Thank goodness for technical terms!

During open-heart surgery, you sure are thankful for your surgeon’s knowledge of technical terms. They help to name things very precisely, without demanding a lengthy explanation first.

But when you are asked to share your research or project on a stage or in front of a webcam, first ask yourself these questions:

  • Are technical terms needed to get my message across, or can I share it just as well in a simpler way?
  • Is my audience familiar with these terms or should I explain them first?

Hungry for more? Discover more examples in our previous blog post about jargon. Learn all about this topic in our workshop ‘Presenting with impact‘.

Translation: Leslie Van Ael