The Three Myths of Technical Presentations

I provide presentation coaching for technical experts — anyone who has in-depth knowledge that is specific to a specialized field. Over the years I’ve become away of a number of their unspoken assumptions that limit their effectiveness.

Those assumptions are what I call myths — erroneous beliefs that are accepted without serious analysis.

These are the three myths most commonly held by technical experts about their presentations:

MYTH #1: Knowledge is power.

Technical experts know something that the rest of us don’t know. (That’s what makes them experts.) But simply knowing something is not what makes them valuable to their organization or, as a presenter, to their audiences.

What makes them valuable is their ability to communicate what they know so that other people can understand it and put it to use.

Knowledge isn’t power. The ability to communicate knowledge is.

MYTH #2: The facts speak for themselves.

Scientists and researchers are the ones most like to say this explicitly. But technical experts in other fields seem to think that facts are facts and simply stating them is enough to win an argument or to prove a point.

Facts don’t say anything. Someone has to collect, analyze, understand, and evaluate the facts. Someone has to draw conclusion from them and make recommendations for future actions based on them. And someone has to present the facts, explain what they mean, and make a compelling proposal about what to do next. That’s the role of the expert.

Facts don’t speak for themselves. The presenter speaks on their behalf.

MYTH #3: The best idea wins out.

At staff meetings or review meetings or status update meetings, technical experts often think that their ideas will win acceptance, simply because they are the best — that is, the most logical — ideas. And they are often sorely disappointed.

Good ideas that are poorly presented often lose out to weaker ideas that are well presented. This is clearly true in politics, where some of the dumbest ideas gain approval. But it’s also true in corporations and in other organizations.

If you’ve got a good idea, it deserves a good hearing. And as a presenter you are the one responsible for making its case, for presenting it as clearly and as persuasively as possible.

The best ideas don’t necessarily win. Good ideas well presented do.

It all comes down to this: As a technical expert it’s your job to know what you’re talking about and to know how to talk about it in a way that other people can understand, care about, and make use of.

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