By John Millen
I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
— Mark Twain
We know that everyone is distracted beyond belief. When I’m giving a speech and talking about distraction, I see a room full of knowing smiles and nodding heads.
There is a good reason for that. It’s estimated that we are exposed to some five thousand marketing messages a day. Our phones constantly beg for attention. We have endless emails, texts, and social media notifications.
And the pace of business and life is faster than ever. The 24/7 news cycle. Working through worldwide time zones.
One. Word. Texts.
This has meant people communicate in increasingly short messages. 280 characters. Five-second sound bites. One. Word. Texts. Or just an emoji. ;-)
All of this means that we are awash in information.
Despite all this distraction, there are times we are held captive and must pay attention or seem to pay attention — and that’s at work. We go to meetings — little meetings, larger meetings, and even convention-size meetings. If you’ve sat through a seemingly endless presentation, you know how that feels.
Focus your messages
All of this distraction means it’s more important than ever that we focus our messages to be as clear and concise as possible.
As subject-matter experts, our biggest job isn’t knowing what to say, it’s knowing what not to say. We have an obligation to cut the clutter and focus on what people really need to know.
But this is hard work. We can take the lazy way out and do a data dump. That’s easy just put up a huge deck of dense PowerPoint slides covered with words and numbers. Just stand there and talk, and keep talking until they get it.
That might have been okay in an earlier time. But today, less is more.
In fact, less has always been more. That’s why President Lincoln’s 282-word Gettysburg address still retains its power.
Engage and influence
People are more likely to be engaged, enlightened, and influenced if you give them less information but with more meaning.
You don’t have to be perfect. No one misses what they didn't know was coming. Unless you printed out a transcript, they don't know what you were going to say. When I’m working on a presentation with a leader, I often have to tell them to stop trying to squeeze ten pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag.
I've been guilty of this myself. In trying to give workshop participants maximum value, I have sometimes sped up to cover every section rather than leave some techniques for another day.
We all need to be part of the solution and give people less information and more understanding.
Here are five ideas for you to streamline your presentations:
1) When planning your presentation, think in terms of ideas. Decide on your major message, the one thing you want people to remember, and think of three ideas or points that support that message. Then build on those three ideas with one-liners, a meaningful statistic, or a story.
2) Take your slide deck and reduce the number of slides by half. Then remove half of the words on each slide. Force yourself to be clear and concise about your ideas. We think we can multitask, but we can’t. If you have a lot of words on your slides, your audience will be reading them and not listening to you. We can’t truly do both.
3) Consider not using slides at all. People are there to hear from you. Your slides should only support your points. Having no slides will mean they are fully focused on you and your message.
4) Cut the time of your talk in half. Instead, use the extra time for questions, or just let people go. Nobody complains about a presentation that ends early. “That presentation was way too short,” said no one. Ever.
This applies whether you are a CEO doing a presentation or a frontline sales manager.
5) Boil your presentation down to key words that you can write on an index card. I call this a “confidence card.” You will know that the brief card is there if you need it, but you’ll be better off without it. Just speak from your heart.
Bonus tip: tell stories. As human beings, we are hardwired for storytelling. Instead of presenting a lot of data, try telling a story that makes your point. Stories are more engaging, persuasive, and memorable. Create your own story bank and your presentations will be much more memorable.
Following these and similar approaches will allow you to use less information with more impact. You get the idea. Think about paring back the amount of clutter you put out in the world.
Find the gems and give those as gifts to the people you reach. They'll appreciate it because today, truly, less is more.
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