Public Speaking: Gearing Your Presentation Toward a Technical Audience

When you are called on to present a technical training program, members of your audience are going to be very different from a typical public speaking audience. They are going to expect to hear information they can use immediately and learn skills that will enhance their on-the-job performance. They will be thinking of the time they spend listening to you as a learning investment. They’ll want your delivery to be concise and on time, accompanied with detailed handouts they can use later as a reference.

What do they know and what do they need to know? One of the most important things you can do when preparing to speak to a technical audience is to find out what they already know about the subject and what they need to know in order to come up to speed. Ask about their level of knowledge and understanding on the topic. What problems do they have? What do they need to learn? How are they going to use the information you present to them?

Make good use of their time. You must also be mindful of the time allotted for your public speaking presentation. A one-to-three hour session is ideal. Quite often, members of a technical audience have been pulled off the job to participate in training and co-workers are covering for them. You can make good use of their time by narrowing your subject, packing lots of useful information into a short period, offering practical applications and speaking from their perspective.

Invite them to participate. Most people learn best by doing. You can tell them what to do and show them what to do, but until they try it themselves, they won’t own it. Inviting your audience to participate increases their learning, holds their attention, reinforces your points and opens the floor for sharing new information. One way to involve people early in your public speaking program is to open with introductions where members of the audience share their goals, concerns and needs. This also helps audience members know who is in the room with them. An added benefit of having individuals introduce themselves is that you gain a stronger sense of what they expect from your public speaking presentation. You can also use their comments when you state your training objectives to show how the content of your program is directly related to their goals and needs. Be sure to consider the size of your audience when deciding if introductions are appropriate, given the time constraints.

Give them specific “how-to” information. Keep in mind that the people in your audience are trainees, in effect. Their managers are going to expect to see measurable changes in their behavior and improvements in their level of productivity. There is an expectation that your training will expand their abilities and practical skills. Provide members of your audience with specific information and support materials to help them learn the new skills. In addition, build in opportunities for them to practice and apply those skills in the learning environment.

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