Presentation Design – Too Much Information

In order to get your audience to buy in to your message, you must prepare and deliver it in a way consistent with adult learning theory. That means you must understand the limits to how much information an audience member can absorb at one time, and what form that information must take in order to first attract, and then keep, their attention.

Of the literally thousands of slides our firm receives for review and revision each year, almost all share the same basic problem: Too Much Information! TMI leads directly to too little retention. And to make matters worse, when your presentation kicks off with a bunch of TMI slides, you gear them up to retain even less.

Too much, too soon, keys the audience’s brains to brace for overload. That jumps starts their natural defense mechanisms into action. Rather than allow you to control their information uptake, overloaded audiences begin to pick and choose what information they will absorb, based on the parts of your message they view as meaningful to them. You, of course, never know what they have rejected or ignored.

The rules of proper presentation design that we preach all exist to ensure that neither you nor your audience suffers from the effects of trying to deal with too much information at any one time. Because when both the presenter and the listeners are overwhelmed, information transfer stutters and stops, and nobody has any fun.

Fred Pryor, often billed as ‘the father of the one-day seminar’, and a considered expert on adult learning, was fond of saying, “Training is selling, and selling is training”. That is, if you’re doing it right, you never lose sight of the fact that while training adults, you must be constantly checking your audience for buy-in. In the same way, to sell effectively, you want others to reach conclusions ‘on their own’; the best way to do this is to lead them to the conclusion you want by ‘educating’ them as to what course provides their best solution.

PowerPoint is a really marvelous tool for creating this training/selling environment, because when used properly, the presenter can lead the audience down the desired path one step at a time. Just as a good trial attorney “builds” his case by laying out the facts one on top of the other, a good presenter can use the tools of proper presentation design to win the case every time.

But like many customers who become overwhelmed when presented with too many choices, audience members can reach overloaded when presented with too much information to decipher, and end up choosing not to “buy” any of it. Most presenters assume that the audience willingly awaits their escort through the intricacies of a complicated slide, when in fact, that’s the last thing they do!

As computer-based presentations have become the norm, audiences are being overwhelmed with productions that seem to use every feature and font that the presenter can find. You may think your presentation skills are great and the audience is with you as they politely nod their heads and smile, but beware: the emperor believed that only a “fool” couldn’t see his beautiful new clothes!

Few corporate audience members are willing to stand up and declare that they really can’t see anything they understand in your presentation. In fact, those polite smiles are often masking the fact that most people would rather avoid the controversy of taking you to task. Sadly, some even smile to hide the fact that they don’t have a clue what you’re trying to say, but believe it their fault – obviously all those smiling, nodding heads must understand you, and they’re the only dumb ones in the group!

If you couldn’t follow the last slide show you sat through, much less stay awake, it might just be that you were an audience to a typical TMI presentation. But you might want to ask yourself if your own presentation designs might use a little help, too