Information Overload: How to fight the urge to say too much

By October 4, 2012SpeakerNotes

information overloadA client recently asked, “How do I control my urge to give more information than my audience needs?”

Great (and very mindful) question! Consider this answer from authors Dan and Chip Heath in Made to Stick. They say that in an effort to be complete, we often feel obligated to share every single thing we know rather than considering just what our listeners need to get the point (called “The Curse of Knowledge” by the authors).

When “cursed,” we keep going and going; as a result, little sticks with our now-overwhelmed audience. Sound familiar?

I’d venture to guess that 90% or more of the business leaders I’ve worked with over the past 25+ years suffer from this affliction.

Follow these 3 steps to avoid the possibility of information overload.

Get focused. Remember, your audience doesn’t need to know everything you know. As the expert, you have a lot to say but unless that topic is your listener’s full-time job or hobby, there is a limit to how much is useful. This might be hard to hear, but the truth is what’s brilliant to you can quickly become boring to others. It’s like looking at someone else’s vacation pictures — fun for a few minutes, then difficult to maintain a genuine level of enthusiasm.

Less is more. The most valuable contribution you can make usually comes from offering a few key points. That means stepping back and organizing your content by grouping it into categories. There’s a lot more value for most people in grasping a few essentials than a laundry list of specifics. Provide your audience with a schematic that helps them quickly understand how you are going to talk about the subject — this allows you to boil your content down to 2-5  main points. Suggested schematics include:

  • past, present and future;
  • problem, consequences, solution;
  • theory and practice;
  • or the proven journalistic approach of who, what, when, where, why and how.

Know what to cut and what to keep. If you’re too close to the subject to decide, ask others what the most critical, interesting or actionable content is then save the rest for a future presentation. Or ask yourself: what do my listeners absolutely need to know, hear or understand in order to take action?

I’ve consistently found these three steps to be the universal cure for information overload — leaving you with a focused, effective presentation and your audience ready for action.  Would love to hear other opinions and/or thoughts on this challenging topic – please share!

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Stephanie Scotti says:

    Thanks Madeline for sharing your experience. You are so right, eye contact is all about inclusion and critical to connecting and building rapport with your audience. It let’s listeners know you care as well as communicates credibility. If a speaker is reading notes, rather than see their facial expression and eye contact they are staring at the top of their head!

  • Madeline Case says:

    Thanks Stephanie. Seen so many people speak at different networking events and when they speak too much, this can put people to sleep or make them feel drowsy that they have to leave the room briefly, just to get some air.

    This happened along time ago my husband and I went to a health expo. On the panel was the late Dr. Joyce Brothers she was the main speaker. She was reading from notes and didn’t have any eye contact with the audience. It was so bad, that I nearly fell asleep and then had to walk out in the middle of her “spiel”. It was quite embarrassing, but what else could I do. The other members on that panel were just wonderful. They had notes with them, but the notes were just so that they knew what to say and talk about.

    At this same expo I had the chance to see and meet the late Jack LaLanne and his wife. He was just fantastic. He knew how to keep the audiences’ attention and engaged well with them. Most important, had great eye contact with everyone. All the audience members were literally “fighting” each other for Jack’s autograph.

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  • saxtonstudio says:

    Excellent points, well made!

  • Thanks Eileen, glad you found it useful and appreciate your commenting on the posting. With your expertise, your feedback means a lot.

  • eileenstrong says:

    Awesome…..spot on!!!

    Eileen