Maybe your kitchen sink looked like mine when I was single--full of every plate, pan, utensil, and glass. When I caught a glimpse of it, I would feel frustrated and overwhelmed. To escape that distress, I would just avoid it. But it’s not just the kitchen sink that can get overloaded; presentations can also get packed with everything from the speaker's proverbial kitchen, and when they do, audiences get overwhelmed and tune out.
It’s understandable why speakers get themselves into this predicament. People are naturally inclined to include as much detail as possible to demonstrate their expertise, prove their point, attempt to overcome an insecurity, or simply be thorough. It’s understandable, but it’s also ineffective. Delivering long-winded, in-the-weeds presentations actually creates the opposite effect--instead of convincingly conveying information, these speakers overwhelm, alienate, and even anger their audiences. In these types of presentations the takeaways get lost in the clutter.
The negative consequences get worse. According to Joseph McCormack, author of the book BRIEF: MAKE A BIGGER IMPACT BY SAYING LESS, audiences, co-workers, and clients consume over 34 gigabytes of information a day, and thus, when you have their attention, you need to be concise. He says, “People get impatient, annoyed, waste valuable time and have to work overtime mentally – and they’re holding those who are long-winded accountable and punishing them with delayed decisions, harsh feedback, unresponsiveness, and votes of no confidence.” The last thing you want is for your clients to lose confidence, your boss to offer harsh feedback, or worst of all, your audience to be unresponsive.
Being concise, either in prepared remarks or when speaking extemporaneously, is an essential skill. It also has a ripple effect--it enhances your reputation, builds trust with your clients, and makes people value what you say.
Some ways to be more concise:
Put it on paper: When preparing for a keynote address or important presentation, make an initial outline. Never assume you can just wing it. Inadequate preparation often causes speakers to over-explain, backtrack over covered territory, and ramble. The same strategy applies when you want to contribute to a meeting--jot down a list of your points before asking for the attendees’ attention. Putting it on paper will help keep you concise and on track.
Budet time for editing: Congratulations, you have prepared for an important presentation or conference call by brainstorming every potential piece of information and illustrative story that pertains to your topic. That’s meticulous and professional. Where the problem develops is when you don’t budget time to cull down this exhaustive list of possible content to only what is necessary for a resonate and engaging presentation. To be concise and purposeful, you need to budget time to edit out the extraneous and repetitive information.
Streamline your visuals: Don’t fill your slide with words; substitute images whenever possible. When words are required, condense sentences into phrases, and then condense phrases into single words. I’d much rather look at a slide that boldly and simply proclaims “Leader” than read, “We have emerged as an industry leader because of our flawless execution of the strategic plan.” Single words, numbers, or images are visually powerful and invite audiences to listen to the speaker for the details.
When preparing for your next presentation, remember the image of the kitchen sink overflowing with every plate, utensil, and cup from the cupboard, and take steps to ensure your presentation doesn’t evoke the same reaction as the overcrowded sink. Instead, take steps to honor the old adage, “less is more.”