TechSpeak vs. UserSpeak

Managed Services Management, Nally, Bob VCIO, Systems Division (2)By Bob Nally
Trivalent Group, Inc.

If you are a technical professional that interacts with users, the following may be familiar:

You’re in a meeting with a user or audience; it could be your client. You’re excited to tell them all about some latest technology that’s the perfect tool for them.  But, as you talk about all the built-in features and security advantages, you see the look on their face, which tells it all—you have lost them both in understanding and worse, interest.

IT professionals often have to relay complicated information to individuals that may have a limited understanding of technology. Some technical professionals exhibit a lack of patience when talking to a nontechnical person. It is critical to develop patience and the skills of conveying important information by moving from TechSpeak to UserSpeak for the non-technical user or audience.

First key to remember: hold back on trying to impress the audience with all your technical knowledge. To be a successful communicator, try to put yourself in their place. Recall your last doctor visit where medical professionals used nothing but medical terms, and you had to ask them what they meant in plain English.

Finding the right level of conversation is a skill that often improves with practice. You will need to develop skills on gauging the speed and technical level of information to share. It can be challenging to find the balance between being too technical but also not underestimating the user’s knowledge.

If you have time to prepare, one method I use with a non-technical audience is to view my task (whether communicating verbally or in writing) as starting with a beginner’s guide and then increasing in detail and complexity. You need to get all the important points across without getting hung up on all the details of how. When talking about a specific technology, first relay what the technology can do for the users and why that is important for them versus how the technology or process works. Ultimately, your audience is most interested in the results that the new technology provides.

An effective way to help the audience to understand something is to use either an example or analogy that can be more easily understood. Using this method, as the conversation develops, if you determine the audience has some knowledge of the topic, you can skip the more basic information (which can always be referenced later if some basics need to be revisited).

A key part of effective communication is listening. Keep in mind, silence can tell you a lot. It can mean the audience is totally absorbed in your message, but it can also mean they are tuning out. It is important to avoid doing all the talking. If there is no interaction, create some. Ask questions that will let you know if the user is understanding what you saying and, if so, whether they are interested. If they aren’t, don’t be afraid to ask what would be the most important thing they want to know about the technology being discussed.

Remember, while you are the technology expert, the user or audience knows their company and its needs. Once they understand the results, the user may well have important information regarding what has been implemented successfully or unsuccessfully in the past. This is your time to listen and ask questions.

One of the most difficult challenges is knowing when to stop. Don’t confuse or dilute the important topics with unnecessary details and information. Often, you can determine this through questioning. It is a much better practice after covering the key elements to let them know that you would be happy to provide more in-depth details for those interested.

Some additional points to consider:

  • Support your conversation with some written material. Some of your audience will always feel more comfortable if they have the information and details in writing so they can review it, several times in some cases.
  • In the written material, it is a good practice to explain the abbreviations and technical acronyms associated with the topic. Use bullet points to help the user quickly locate specific items. They may want to review or follow along during the conversation so they make notes or ask questions from the materials. You will want to make the written material easy to reference but, at the same time, have the audience concentrate on the conversation.
  • As your skills improve in converting TechSpeak to UserSpeak, you will find that users will gain an increased trust and feel less anxiety in having conversations with you. Frequently, you may even be pulled into meetings or conversations not initiated by yourself since the user knows you will be able to extract the information and help relay it to them in their terms. For many professionals, once they have developed these skills, it allows them new opportunities and rewards in their technical career.

The key is to practice. Maybe consider attending a seminar or picking up one or more books, maybe for both written and verbal communication. I think you will find these skills both rewarding and valuable.