How to Explain (Almost) Rocket Science to a Non-technical Person
Anthony Fasano posted on April 10, 2011 |
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my book Engineer Your Own Success:

One of the challenges that you will constantly be faced with in your career as an engineering professional is that of trying to relay technical information to someone with a non-technical background, usually your client. This is one aspect of your career that if done properly can really set you apart from other engineering professionals, because many of them cannot do this or at least cannot do it well.

To master the art of relaying technical information to others (and yes it is an art), you must start by thinking about the information you are presenting from the other person’s perspective. When doing this, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about what would help them to easily understand the information you give to them.

It can also be very helpful to use analogies to put your information into terms that your audience will understand. Everyone has their own perspective based on their background and experience, and by using their terms you can make them much more comfortable and receptive to your message. If you can't find a good analogy or example that relates to them, you can always revert to the financial aspect of that situation assuming it's relevant. For example, if you're going to change the design on a project to make it more cost effective for the client, then you probably won't need to get too deep into the technical jargon. You can simply relay the fact that they're going to save money with this new design, and of course, give them the dollar value which they’ll certainly understand!

The ability to communicate clearly is such an important skill because it allows you to convey to your clients how valuable you are to them. If they can’t see the value you are providing, then you are no different then the next engineer that can prepare a design or do an inspection. I've worked on projects where we had to squeeze unbelievable amounts of storm water treatment onto a very small site. In situations like this, the client is never going to appreciate the amount of work or skill that goes into making the site work by simply looking at a plan. That’s when you must utilize some of the strategies given above to explain or attach a value to your work. Then when your client is assembling their design team for the next project, you can bet that you will be one of the first that they call because they know how important you and your company are to their success.

I am not saying that you have to walk around all day long bragging to your clients about how great you are. What I am saying is that in this competitive corporate world that we live in, those individuals and organizations that can clearly communicate their value to their clients will be the ones who will always have projects to work on!

The rest of Chapter 4 will provide strategies for becoming an effective communicator including: focusing on the way you say things, increasing your confidence, and improving your listening and public speaking skills.

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This is a guest post by Anthony Fasano, PE, author of Engineer Your Own Success. Anthony found success as an engineer at a very early age and now writes and podcasts to help other engineers do the same. Visit Anthony’s website at and subscribe to the top 3 resources Anthony has used to become a partner in a firm at the age of 27.

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