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Talking with non-security people.

Maybe you’re an information security expert. Maybe you just know a few technical things but everybody calls you for advice. My suggestion on how to talk to non-technical people, this sounds trite, but keep it simple. Non-technical people are really smart. They’re just not used to the technical terminology that you’re used to in your day-to-day world.

I have four things I want to talk to you about today, when you’re talking to non-technical people.

  • don’t assume anything. Even the most basic technical terms to you can be over the head of non-technical people. You start talking about the difference in bytes and megabytes and gigabytes and people start to get their eyes crossed. It’s just not terminology they’re used to.
  • don’t do a data dump. Us technical people, we love our ones and zeros. We like to analyze, we like to get graphs, we like to see what the data can mean. When you’re talking to non-technical people choose the relevant statistics that they need to make a good decision and that’s meaningful to them, so that they can make the most out of the data you’re presenting to them.
  • engage them on all levels. Nix the architectural charts. All of those cylinders and boxes and network connections don’t make sense to people that are not technical. Find a visual that makes sense to them even if it’s just boxes. This box connects to this box. If it gets your point across it’s going to stick with them in a much more meaningful way than trying to make it look pretty and snazzy in a technical fashion.
  • use analogies. I love analogies because people remember stories. So, let’s talk about an airplane. When I’m talking about information security and we’re talking about standardizing our controls and our processes in a checklist, I use the analogy of an airline pilot. No matter which airline you’re on, no matter what plane you’re flying, a pilot will go through the same checks and balances every time.

That’s the kind of story they’re going to remember, if you put that checklist into their terms. Remember, non-technical people are super smart, they just don’t have the technical vocabulary you do. Take the time to talk in their terms and you’re going to get great results.

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