Do your presentations suffer from information overload?  One of my readers, Alec, wrote to me for help with this:

I know I should edit mercilessly, but the dilemma is that I’m often presenting fairly controversial points of view, or unorthodox (but proven) approaches, and so I know what all the objections or questions will be, and I try to build those into the presentation. I just don’t seem to be able to control the urge to “give more.”

Alec knows at an intellectual level that he should edit, but at an emotional level he’s driven to share more. Hence information overload. Here are my thoughts to help Alec – and you, should you share the information overload problem – fight the urge to add more content:

1. A presentation is the worst possible way to deliver lots of information

Information overload

Alec’s drive is to deliver maximum value to his audience. It seems to make intuitive sense that the way to deliver maximum value is to give the audience as much as possible. But information transfer doesn’t work that way.

A presentation is the worst possible way to deliver lots of information to another person. The person on the receiving end has no control. They can’t adjust the pace of delivery. They can’t pause to process and think.

2. Just because you say it doesn’t mean they will get it

I laboured under this comforting illusion for a long time! I had to be confronted time and time again with the reality that people hadn’t got what I’d said. People daydream, they think about what you just said and so miss what you’re saying now, or they don’t understand what you said. To combat these obstacles, you have to craft what you say and enhance it with an example or an analogy. It takes time to deliver that.

3. The more points you make, the less points they’ll get

Given that it takes time to deliver a well-crafted, memorable point, the more points you cram in, the less time you have to make each one. Therefore the less memorable each point will be.

And quite apart from the lack of time to develop each point, piling on one point after another dilutes the power of the one that came before. For help with editing your presentation check out this post: 9 Ways to Edit your Presentation.

4. Stop seeing your presentation as a one-off event

Are you driven by a scarcity mindset? Do you say to yourself “This is the only time I’m going to see these people, I’ve got to give them everything I’ve got.” That makes you want to cram in as much as possible.

So instead, view your presentation as just the beginning of your relationship with the people in your audience. You can deliver value to your audience in lots of other ways. Traditionally, we did this with handouts, but now you can:

  • Develop a website (or part of your existing website) to support your presentations with lots of additional resources
  • Keep people up-to-date with your thinking with a blog or email newsletter
  • Give people lots of different ways to contact you (email, Twitter, Facebook).

This idea is developed further by Cliff Atkinson in his book The Backchannel.

5. So what is a presentation good for?

So you’ve scaled down your ambitions as to what your presentation will achieve in terms of information transfer. What can you achieve with a presentation?

A presentation is a taster for what you have to share. It can raise awareness of your topic. It can provoke different ways of thinking about an issue. It can inspire and motivate.

And it’s one of the best possible ways of achieving those things.

I know I should edit mercilessly, but the dilemma is that I’m often presenting fairly controversial points of view, or unorthodox (but proven) approaches, and so I know what all the objections or questions will be, and I try to build those into the presentation. I just don’t seem to be able to control the urge to “give more.”