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Technical presentations serve engineering, scientific and high tech purposes, describing advances in technology, problem resolution, product design and project status. In general, technical presentations serve one of two purposes: (1) to inform (e.g., knowledge transfer, classroom instruction) or (2) to persuade (e.g., convincing others to adopt a design approach or accept the results of an evaluation process).
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), individuals who are well-versed in the topic being presented, generally make technical presentations. Audiences may range from highly technical (fellow engineers and technologists) to non-technical, and part of the challenge of preparing and presenting technical material is gauging the knowledge level of the audience.
One reason for this is that, unlike other public speaking occasions, technical presenters are not usually expert presenters. Instead, they’re usually experts in the material, but not in projecting, engaging the audience, demonstrating enthusiasm, using humor and other best practices successful presenters use. They may have little or no preparation for, or background in, public speaking, yet they are required to do so. Often they present material as if the material should speak for itself, no additional enthusiasm or expression required.
In his book, Presentations for Dummies, Malcolm Kushner’s chapter on “Technical and Financial Presentations” includes comments by Dr. David Haussler, the mastermind of the human genome project and an expert on technical presentations. Dr. Haussler says that enthusiasm is the most important element of a technical presentation. “Enthusiasm and belief in what you are trying to convey are more important than the technical details,” says Dr. Haussler. “You can be technically perfect, but if you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re saying, people will fall asleep or walk out. They’ll never remember it.”