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Firearms Examiner Training

Presenting Technical Information

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Presenting Technical Information

group of jurors in a courtroom
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The presentation of scientific information to laypeople requires real finesse. At one extreme, speakers try to impress (or ignore) their audience through the use of discipline-specific jargon, mathematical formulas, and a pace of discussion that only experts at universities or specialized conferences could follow. The other end of the spectrum involves dumbing-down the material or moving so slowly that anyone paying attention would comprehend your message, often leaving many participants bored or feeling patronized. The middle ground, a favored style of many university professors, is to communicate at a level near or slightly above the mean capability of the audience, hoping to avoid losing the interest of higher-end recipients while challenging lower-end receivers to keep up. None of these strategies is particularly effective, especially if the larger goal is to motivate the audience to leave the presentation informed and/or persuaded.

An alternative approach requires a better understanding of the capabilities and motivations of the audience prior to the development of presentation materials. If their scientific training is at or near the level of presenters, the persuasiveness of messages may be dependent upon the depth and sophistication of the material provided. However, if the audience lacks the appropriate scientific background but nonetheless is educated and has experience with technical rigor, their expectations may include a very detailed and complicated discussion with some additional explanation using more common vernacular. For naive audiences with little scientific background or general academic experience, the limited use of technical information combined with stimulating visual experiences may represent the most effective combination. Regardless, an assessment of their motivation to attend, learn, and be persuaded should impact these decisions.

Presenting to Audiences

a man in front of a whiteboard talking to three people
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The size and diversity of an audience are added considerations for presenters. For some communicators, the larger the audience the more motivated they become and the better they perform. However, for most individuals such audiences are disconcerting because of problems creating a sustained rapport. When a mass of people reaches a certain size, they often seem to blend into an ambiguous whole where their individual identities disappear. The lighting is usually dimmed and then focused on presenters, creating further distance between them and the collective. The sound of ones own voice as well as the associated visual stimuli are dramatically magnified and tend to drown out competing noises. Diverse audiences, whether they are large or of moderate size, pose different challenges due to their ethnic, religious, cultural, language, or other differences between themselves and presenters.

The anonymity experienced by some presenters can be remedied with a change in perception and the use of recommendations from the last section. Audiences have personalities and frequent changes in mood. Presenters need to be in tune with their joint body language and modify the use of voice, movement, and visual material accordingly. One tactic is to pick out distinct individuals from different locations to make sustained eye contact with so that the entire audience feels your presence and attention over time. Using intonations, gestures, and facial expressions commonly applied in more intimate settings may facilitate the creation of positive relationships. Diverse groups have a perceptual and cultural distance from presenters, and their reactions may be difficult to discern. Thus, presenters are instructed to modify their styles and materials to match the needs of the audience in order to improve communication effectiveness.

Relationship Building

man in a blue shirt extending a handshake
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Our conversations at work have the benefit of mirroring the ways in which we communicate naturally throughout our lives. The good news is that many of the characteristics that have made us effective in personal relationships carry over to these exchanges. Our physical attributes, dress and deportment, and listening skills that attract family and friends transfer easily to interactions with coworkers, supervisors, and clients. Unfortunately, their transferability is not necessarily one-to-one, leading to difficulties that may have been avoided with some self-reflection. Consider the woman who refers to everyone as honey or darling. While these monikers may be appropriate for her children, her subordinates may find them condescending or too familiar. Furthermore, the male coworker who enjoys ribald jokes with his friends during a poker game would cross the line by sending mass e-mails containing them to his employees.

One way of avoiding these problems is to categorize all relationships according to their primary function. The simplest method is a two-group system based on the extent to which relationships are largely altruistic and defined by intrinsic qualities or largely performance oriented and defined by output expectations. The former category is epitomized by our most cherished roles such as father, daughter, and best friend. The latter category is made up mostly of employment situations where we are required to meet certain goals and objectives. Of course, even these extremes are not pure forms in that we often must do things to please our loved ones and close acquaintances that may arise at work. Regardless, we may be best served by saving informalities in greetings, expressions, and physicality for those persons who occupy our private sphere of influence and use more restraint in language, demeanor, and deportment in public setting.

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