Real Leaders

How to Convey Complex Ideas to Your Audience During a Speech

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking.

Justin McKinney, CEO of Ivani, LLC asks: When talking about sophisticated technologies, is there a rule of thumb on how to best to strike a balance between being too high-level vs. too in the weeds? 

Dear Justin,

Great question. The first rule is to know your audience. You could be easily embarrassed or discredited if you do not. If you were invited, for example, to speak for my friend, David Edelman’s, Advanced Technology Security Policy class at MIT, you want to be sure your talk is rigorous and carefully vetted. When you present technology solutions you want to make sure they are tested and that you can back them up through quotations from experts brighter and more generally acknowledged than you are.

So, in the case of David’s course you want to clear your message with the person who has invited you to lecture and try out your presentation on a critical friend or two. This is high-stakes communication.

You get one chance to make it right. Any intellectual laziness will be picked up right away, and you may even find people walking out. In between presenting technical data, pause, and check in with your audience and ask “Is any of this making sense with you?” That will make you human and approachable.

On the other hand, with a more generally educated audience, you could risk losing their interest if you are too technical. Let’s say you want to convey the same data but in a less academic way. Then tell a story about how the application works, when it will be available in the marketplace, and how it will improve people’s lives. Then tell a story about how its use could affect the people present in the audience.

Make sure they know the impact on them and make sure you do not use a vocabulary containing words generally unknown to them. If you do, you will be thought haughty and will quickly torpedo that bridge to the audience we always talk about. I would love to hear your next talk!  Good luck.

Have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about public speaking? Email James at and your answer may feature here.

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