When speakers are asked to talk on a particular topic, some tend to believe that the more information they share, the better. There’s a too-common notion that sharing everything you know will help the audience considerably improve their personal or professional lives – and that the more you tell, the greater your credibility. And so these speakers unload vast volumes of facts, statistics, opinions, opposing views, secrets and speculations, all with no regard for the dangers of audience information overload.
What dangers? Well, though details may be useful, trying to absorb too many too quickly can overburden the brain. Unfortunately, audience members just aren’t capable of grasping and remembering every word they hear. They can’t control your information volume or pace. They have no way of hitting a “pause” button, buying a bit of time for consideration and comprehension. The most they can do is try to adjust somewhat to the presenter’s manner.
As a presenter, you’ve got to consider normal human cognitive limitations if you intend to be effective at information transfer. How? We’ve compiled some useful tools, tips and tricks for you.
#1: Pay Attention to Your Audience
For every item you consider adding to your outline, ask yourself this question: Does my audience care to know about this? Will they find it valuable? Some attendees will appreciate supportive details, but realize that even those who are highly interested in your topic don’t want to be bombarded with loads of unprocessed information, especially in a short period of time. Your task here boils down to identifying your takeaways – the high-value items you want to be sure your audience absorbs, understands, remembers and acts upon – and then focusing sharply on those key items.
#2: Structure Your Presentation
Some presenters end up beating around the bush and spouting irrelevancies because they’ve failed to give their talk any sensible structure. Audiences feel frustrated when they’re subjected to a little of this, then a disrelated bit of that, followed by a few more ideas at random – all without any solid point being made. They end up lost in a blizzard of irrelevant, disconnected detail, taking away nothing but a swirl of confusion – and perhaps a bit of a headache. To save your audience (and your reputation) from such a horrible fate, begin your preparations by grabbing pen and paper and outlining your talk in full. Choose the truly important messages and arrange them in a logical, easily comprehensible sequence. Then stick to that outline!
#3: Present Facts Gradually
Packing too many concepts into a single slide can overwhelm your audience, preventing comprehension and retention. Ideally you should emphasize just one idea per slide. This doesn’t always work well – sometimes you really do need to discuss a few closely related ideas in one slide. In such cases the animation feature of your presentation software can be brought into play, so that ideas can be introduced one at a time, each building upon the last until the whole picture is assembled. If you’re not a PowerPoint wizard and would rather not go through the complexities of animating slide elements, a similar effect can be achieved by slide duplication, as shown below.
#4: Point the way to additional information
Often you only get one chance to address a particular audience. But the fact that you won’t see them again doesn’t give you license to hit them with everything you’ve got at one sitting. Instead, treat your presentation as the launch-point of a lasting relationship with your audience, through these actionable steps:
- Distribute handouts or additional learning materials
- Create a page on your website where you provide links to more information and recommended resources – then encourage your listeners to visit and explore
- Make it easy and inviting for your audience to reach you through email, social media or your blog
Do you have any other practical advice for preventing audience overwhelm and information overload? Please take a moment to share them in the comments below!