Have you ever hear of the term “Death by PowerPoint” – if you’re the person that delivers lots of presentations with lots of PowerPoint slides, then you probably haven’t. If you’re one of the many unfortunate people to receive these types of presentations, then you will understand what this means. But how can we prevent it when the slides lure us in so easily? How to avoid information overload?
Its too easy to accomplish – it gives us a nice structured way to design our presentations, and something to focus on that isn’t what we have to say. But wait – why are we spending so much time focusing on getting all our content into some slides and not out of our mouths? Perhaps its an insecurity thing – what if I don’t say everything I need to? What if people can’t take in everything I have to say? These are the wrong questions to ask, and therefor lead to wrong answers.
The “Right” Question
We shouldn’t be asking how to fit everything in, we should be asking “how can I make sure I only say the minimum amount that my listeners need”. We shouldn’t be asking “what if people can’t take everything I have to say in”, we should be asking “how can I make sure I only say the minimum amount that my listeners need”. You see the pattern? Suddenly a hour long boring presentation can become a powerful 5 minute presentation. A 2 hour lecture can become a half hour lecture leaving time for an hour and a half practical work (many people learn better this way by the way). Or a full day meeting can become a 2 hour meeting, then everyone can get on with some real work!
The ONE Thing
There is an ancient idea that a good speech should have a maximum of 3 points. This is a lie. If you have ever read “The ONE Thing”, you will understand that focusing on 1 single point is far more powerful than attempting to hit 3. Make your presentation about 1 single point. You can elaborate on that point, but if you go over to 2 points, that can wait for another time.
The next step to avoiding Information Overload is to start with some notes. Try making your notes with the minimum number of distractions. All you probably need is a pen, paper and a quiet space. On the other hand, if you attempt to take notes on an internet-connected laptop, with a phone in your pocket and people asking you questions every 10 seconds, your own notes will be distracted. If you can’t focus on preparing your presentation, your audience won’t be able to focus on you. Write down everything you want at this point. Its often easier to do a brain dump first, then fine-tune it later.
The next step is to dissect your notes. Perhaps you’re really efficient and barely have any notes. This is a good sign! You’re well on track to avoiding Information Overload. Most people, however, will have too much. This is your best opportunity to avoid Information Overload. Here are some simple steps to reduce the information:
- For every sentence in your notes, try to split it into smaller sentences, with only 1 piece of information in each.
- Repeat step 1 until no more sentences can be split.
- For every sentence, ask yourself “Is this information completely necessary for listeners needs”?
- Remove all sentences that are not completely necessary.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until no more sentences can be removed.
Now use these refined notes to write your presentation notes. At this point, don’t make any slides. You might want an internet connection for any additional research at this point, but try without it if you can. Once you have your presentation notes, follow the Dissection Process again to refine them further, until you have the minimum possible set of notes for your presentation. These notes will help prepare you for a powerful presentation.
Now you have your notes, what do you do with them? You can make a few slides if absolutely necessary, but do that bit last. Slides are great for pictures, illustrations and other visual aids, but are rubbish for conveying any amount of textual information – that’s where you end up with PowerPants. Use an email for that. People like to read in their own time, not your time.
Instead, if you really must use slides, make it to the point. The clue is in the name (PowerPOINT, but this is also applicable for any other slide software). Don’t write your notes into them though. Keep your notes to yourself on paper, you can always send an electronic copy around afterwards to anyone that wants them. Instead, just use it as a visual aid where it will actually add value.
Most presentations could do away with the slides altogether though. Try a flipchart, chalkboard or other interactive physical medium. If you really need your audience to have large amounts of information available to them whilst you speak, try giving a handout. The only exception to this is if your audience is far too big for it to be environmentally friendly. If you just have too much information for it to be environmentally friendly, go back to the Dissection Process, or replace large blocks of text with a single image.
Be careful not to duplicate your (small number of) slides though. I’ve sat through too many presentations where the presenter has too much information on their slides for the audience to take in. Their remedy: print out the slides so their audience can add more notes?!?!?!?!? The handout shouldn’t just be a copy of what is on the screen – that’s just a waste of paper.
It goes without saying, the presenter that waffles loses their audience in a matter of seconds. This is typically found when corporate leaders decide they want to give a presentation to their employees, usually when there is a company change in process. They rarely have any notes, don’t know exactly what they are going to say and haven’t thought about how their nothingness will add value to their employees. The result: a long stream of buzzwords and time-filling management-jargon that sounds impressive but switches everybody off, and the time of everyone present is wasted.
Stop waffling. Stick to your notes. If you go off track, come back. If you’ve said everything you need to say then instead of waffling, Finish High.
Now you have delivered your short, sharp presentation, its time to stop! Practice finishing as much as you practice anything else. Some people seem to like finishing all fluffy: “well, so, I guess thats about it, unless anyone else can think of something? No? You’re a quiet bunch”. Sound familiar? Makes you cringe? Instead, get a short, concise finishing that doesn’t make anyone feel embarrassed for you. Practice saying it confidently. Some ideas for finishing high to get you started:
- A quick 30 second fly-by summary of everything covered.
- “And that covers my research on …”
- “To conclude, …”
- “Why don’t you …”
- “Lets all … so that …”
- “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to …”
So why don’t you try reducing your next presentation. After all, you’ve probably got so much to lose.