Your Intended Message

How to Give a Technical Presentation to Non-Techies: Andrew Churchill

March 10, 2022

For Engineers and Technical Professionals when presenting to a non-technical audience

Transforming complex concepts into simple ideas people can understand

Andrew Churchill leads us through the process of dissecting complicated issues reimaging the key points into a clear and compelling message.

Episode 85

In this conversation with Andrew Churchill we examine:

  • How to get better feedback when preparing your presentation
  • Recognizing the presence of unintended messages
  • How one entrepreneur made a successful pitch for his spinal surgery tool
  • Why it's critical to consider how the audience will feel
  • Why the audience doesn't need to know everything
  • The danger of false focal points

Andrew Churchill specializes in helping founders and researchers deliver technical messages in a clear way.

He teaches engineers at McGill University how to connect with their audiences. 

You can find Andrew on Linkedin at Andrew H Churchill


Excerpts from this conversation

What do you want to know more about? How did you feel? And what did the person actually say?


 And the challenge is, as an academic, how do you present your research to people in three minutes that aren't in your discipline? So how do we go from that technical, unfamiliar world of my work? So you can understand me? And understand what I'm doing? The three minute thesis competition,


I talk about connection, comprehension and credibility.

George, you probably immediately recognise those as logos, pathos, and ethos. Communication is not changing very rapidly.

I mean, yeah, we have a microphone now and an electronic screen. But But, but the way humans relate to each other. The things we remember, the things that draw us in our capacity to remember, one of the things I'm one of the things I'm always talking with people is it's not.

You don't have to dumb it down. But you can't give us a lot of detail. Because we can't remember a lot. And we can't process a lot. So so it's not so when people say don't use jargon, I always say don't use technical words, use plain language.

I don't think I don't actually think that's so so here's a, here's maybe a controversial take. Academic academics should use technical language. They should use plain language too. But they shouldn't shy away from the language of their field.



They should teach it to us, they should bring us to their language. So because plain language doesn't work, there, you know, there there needs to be a plain language.



When we try and present technical information to a non technical audience. So it's not just about definitions, and explanation. The worst thing you can do is sound like a Wikipedia article.

And most people start with a Wikipedia article worth of information, which is fine. That's what the whiteboards for. You put the that information on the whiteboard, then you figure out what you want people to remember.

And then you figure out how to tell it in a way that people are going to become curious and motivated to listen. And, and then you try and finish in a way that people are going to be motivated to do whatever you're hoping they'll do after.



And Andrew I notice at least three important parts or elements to that that presentation. 

They started with something we know or at least are familiar with the flight simulator and they related that to the spinal surgery so they built a connection

If they just started in with spinal surgeon  Ha, we don't know, we don't know anything about that.

But they made that connection. So they started where we know that made a connection made us curious, introduced only one technical word, which then was explained, which now goes in our memory.

And we might feel good, I learned a new word today, haptic and even know what it means. I can use it in the sentence. It's like, when you're stirring the soup, and you feel that resistance, that's haptic feedback, you know, the right thickness of your stew.



That's a great analogy is perfect. See, it worked. And that message was received, because now George can explain haptic feedback.


But it's about being very strategic, and only choosing to highlight the ones you need and deleting way more than you think. The more you can delete, the more likely people are to understand and and stay with you.

I think there are two things that go on there. At least I think about this two ways. Be interesting to see if this resonates for you. One is a concept I call cognitive overload. Whereas you give me things eventually. can't take anymore. I'm done. And then I shut down.



And then the other one is a concept that I think of is false focal point.

I give you a detail. You think it's important. It's not. So I've created a false focal point. Because you're going to you pick up on things.

As you listen, you're like, Oh, that's interesting. But if it's not important if it's not central, but it's interesting. I've actually undermining myself. Because I've created interest in something. That's not what I'm talking about. It's not critical to what I'm talking about.



And and is that reinforcement and do that just because something's interesting doesn't mean it should be in our presentation.


Your Intended Message is the podcast about how you can boost your career and business success by honing your communication skills. We’ll examine the aspects of how we communicate one-to-one, one to few and one to many – plus that important conversation, one to self.

In these interviews we will explore presentation skills, public speaking, conversation, persuasion, negotiation, sales conversations, marketing, team meetings, social media, branding, self talk and more.


Your host is George Torok

George is a specialist in communication skills. Especially presentation. He’s fascinated by the links between communication and influencing behaviours. He delivers training and coaching programs to help leaders and promising professionals deliver the intended message for greater success.


Connect with George


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