Five tips for communicating technical subject matter

Posted on January 6, 2017

Elyse Nabata, Assistant Account Specialist

Working in IT, Government of Alberta’s ministry of Environment and Parks and dating an engineer have faced me with the task of deciphering and communicating complex technical information. Whether you are looking to improve your next presentation or find yourself needing to communicate technical subject matter to a non-technical audience – here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your message is understood.

  1. Know the facts/product/technology inside out – if you are the subject matter expert, you’ll likely have this down pat, but if you’re not, it’s important to try and become one. If it’s a technical solution that you can test or pilot first hand – do it. Seek out the subject matter expert and have them walk you through what they know and don’t forget to ask plenty of questions! Read information online and do your own personal research.
  2. Know your audience – this may seem like a no-brainer, but the way you communicate a topic can change significantly depending on who the audience is. It can also affect your choice in who is delivering the message. For example, at an engineering conference, you would likely want to choose the technical subject matter expert and not the CEO to speak about a new technology. It’s a good idea to tailor your language and examples to best fit the audience you’re working with.
  3. PLAIN LANGUAGE – I’ve used all caps to emphasize the importance of this point. It’s something I’ve found that technical subject matter experts often struggle with. To be fair, at times there aren’t plain language alternatives for specific processes, technologies, etc., but try as much as you possibly can. Mark Twain once said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” Preach, Mark – preach.
  4. Examples and visual aids – the use of real life examples and visual aids (photos, diagrams, charts etc.) can help drive your point across and reinforce your message. Once, my partner tried to explain how a steam turbine worked to me. It wasn’t until he showed me a diagram that I began to understand. There are many types of visual aids – don’t immediately jump to a PowerPoint presentation. There are many new and creative visuals you can use. I love this TED Talk by David McCandless about data visualizations – if you have 20 minutes to spare; it’s worth a watch.
  5. Keep it clear, concise and to the point – this is a tip that we all can keep in mind to improve our writing. Strive to cut out unnecessary words and use the most direct way to phrase sentences. If in doubt, pass a piece of writing by someone who’s not familiar with the subject matter to see if it makes sense to them.


Keep these tips in mind and you’ll improve your communication skills and avoid people looking at you like this:







-Elyse Nabata is an Assistant Account Specialist at Brookline with a passion for writing and organized project planning.