“In a world crowded with complexity, simplicity stands out. It brings clarity instead of confusion, decision instead of doubt. And the rewards are real. Simplicity inspires deeper trust and greater loyalty in customers, and clears the way to innovation for employees.” ― Global Brand Simplicity Index 2013, siegel+gale
Lately, I was listening to a conference talk about “an UART implementation on FPGA using VHDL.” And the presentation certainly rang a bell with me. Not the “Ah, that’s interesting!” bell, but rather the “Help, what am I doing in here!” one.
Although I have worked in tech industry for more than half of my lifetime and I have listened to hundreds of this type of presentations, enthusiastically embraced by engineers, I still suffer from acronyphobia or fear of acronyms.
OK, the presentation became a lot ‘clearer’ to me when the speaker expanded the accursed four-letter abbreviations into “Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter”, “Field-Programmable Gate Array”, and “VHSIC Hardware Description Language.” (yes, sometimes an acronym may hide another one.)
But then, I was gripped by a sense of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. Why didn’t the speaker explain in simple human language that he had used a programmable chip to build a new piece of computer hardware? OK, I admit that I am more of a software guy, which may be a an explanation for why I was not appreciating the hardware design jargon. Though I’m pretty sure that I was not the only VHDL layman listening to this presentation in jargonese.
Here are a few public speaking tips for this (without any doubt) highly qualified hardware engineer ― and for the rest of us techies too:
- Don’t overestimate your audience. Even if there are few experts in the room that fully understand the technical details on your slides, the majority of your listeners may not (very often it’s not the engineer, but rather his or her manager that attends a conference…)
- Apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. No acronyms (hehe, do you see the joke?) No difficult words. No long sentences. And refrain from technology/financial/business jargon.
Image courtesy of Manu Cartoons
- Avoid complex drawings with detailed architectures. As a speaker you will need too much time to explain them, your audience will spend too much energy to understand them, and most often the text on the slides will be too small to read anyway.
- Prove to your listeners that you have the “right to speak”, that you’re a person of interest and an authority on the topic you are presenting. Win their attention ― as well as their respect ― by telling interesting things instead of difficult ones.
- Don’t just copy & paste text from a written document to a PowerPoint slide. Sentences will be too wordy and too structured. Never use your slides as your teleprompter.
So, next time you’re start preparing a technical presentation, keep Arthur Schopenhauer‘s advice in mind:
“One should use common words to say uncommon things.”
Here’s some more reading (not only for UART designers):
- Why You Should Do Away with Jargon (by Richard Branson)
- You Can Live Blissfully Free of Jargon by Embracing Storytelling Sound Bites (by Jennifer Connelly)
- Simplicity always works (by me)
- How to write a paper (by me)