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What Every Engineer Should Do When the Audience Doesn’t Understand

It occasionally happens to the best communicator – distant looks, blank stares, the slight head tilt.

The issue is not whether it will happen but what to do when it happens.

Don’t Blame the Audience

It is not their fault. It's your fault. Look no further than your mobile phone or cable TV provider. The burden of effective communication is on the sender, not the receiver.

Some people are indeed less intelligent than others. And also true that some senior managers are faking it until they make it. However, somehow you are the one making the presentation to them. Own that burden.

Move to Plan B

If you used FINESSE to develop your presentation, then you reduced your visuals to reduce noise. You still have them in reserve. Pivot slightly (do not create doubt), and pull forward some of those slides you were holding for Q&A.


Over-reaction will produce doubt, so if a slight pivot does not work, simply ask. You will be moving from pure communication to facilitation (bringing a group together), so be careful – there are nuances to doing this well.

Call for Help

It may not be a colleague. In fact, drawing one of the receivers (who has experience or may simply understand what others do not) is the best approach.


If you were using FINESSE, you provided your report and presentation in advance. And you asked your audience in advance if they had any questions about what you provided. Rarely do you miss it if you follow FINESSE, but on rare occasions you do. Clearly, the audience knows you tried, so own it and apologize. You will usually get a second chance.

Communicate with FINESSE

The Communicating with FINESSE fishbone diagram provides the source for effective communications. Things go wrong in our communication when we deviate from it. Remember to fall back on the basics if you have misalignment (and misunderstanding) with your audience.


Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals committed to being better trusted advisors.


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