How to Translate Your Geek Speak (and why you should try)

I’m going to make a broad assumption that if you are a fellow nerd (who grins after coding for eight hours straight) you may not be the type of person who works on your own car. Have you ever taken your car to the garage and experienced the mechanic speaking a hundred miles an hour about A-Brackets,  A-Pillars, Alternators, and Ammeters? Yes, No? Well, I have, and sometimes I wish they would consider that I might not speak their language. I really won’t be offended if you simply tell me there’s a hose that has a small leak in it and it should be replaced.

I personally feel that it is more admirable to be able to speak intelligently about your profession in a manner that anyone can understand, regardless of your industry. When preparing for an upcoming board presentation I came across a 40 page presentation designed to explain BI to non-technical people. Ahhhhh!

Remember…It Doesn’t Have to Be Complex to Be Cool! What is BI? Well, if you search this question you will find hundreds of complex explanations, however, don’t forget to remember your audience. Don’t make the mistake of boring them with long drawn out ramblings of ETL processes, data cleansing, and server maintenance plans.

Really, BI can be explained very simply; it’s the process of gathering data to present a single version of the truth so that data driven decisions can be made more easily.

Simple, right? Here are a few more: Data warehouse – a place to store summarized data from several end user systems. KPIs – a way to measure the progress of company goals. Scorecard – a collection of KPIs. I know, it may sound silly to simplify concepts to this degree, but it often accomplishes what is really needed in business conversations – solid communication.

It’s still easier said than done, so here are some things to consider before presenting your technical joys to non-technical people.

  1. An intelligent co-worker of mine suggested considering how you might explain the technicality to a child. This is not with the intent of sounding condescending, but more to make us more aware of what we are saying and how we are saying it.
  2. Remember, don’t try to impress others by using technical lingo, instead, impress them by demonstrating that you can live in their world as well as yours. This means being mindful and considerate of your audience.
  3. Practice! After a long time of fumbling through my explanation of “what I do for a living” I finally have my elevator speech nearly perfected – ha-ha, but not really. Sometimes I find that I still accidently insult people by speaking too elementary or I frustrate people by speaking too technically. The important thing is that I learn more each time about how to gauge people and the approach I should take when speaking about my nerdy life.

One last thought to consider…From my experience “less is more”. My first goal in meetings is to accomplish solid communication. I do this by presenting condensed and non-wordy explanations. I have found that if the other party wants to know more they generally won’t hesitate to ask, especially when I have successfully presented the topic in a non-threatening manner.

Your communication success can be judged by paying attention to your audience. Are they staring at you blankly with little to no interaction? You may be speaking a foreign language to them. Are they interacting and actively engaged with the conversation? If so, congratulations! You have empowered them and potentially created a strong business ally.


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