One of my favorite parts of any event is the food. It’s always so good, and there is always just so darn much of it. I was the youngest of six kids, so the idea of having way more food on the table than anyone could possibly eat always makes me feel like I’ve made it to seventh heaven. As you all know, the food is a big part of the attendee experience, and of course one must always be sure there is more than enough to go around.
When one gets up to make a presentation at an event, there is always a temptation to approach the audience the same way the caterer did — that is, to offer the audience a massive amount of information as well. It may seem counterintuitive to even think of offering less than a supersized sumptuous feast of PowerPoint slides, but this kind of restraint is the key to successful presentations.
One very good example of “information restraint” is the Pimsleur Language System. In every language, their first 30-minute lesson is always the same 3 phrases: “Do you speak English?” “I want a beer,” and “Where is the bathroom?”
Thirty minutes to learn just three little phrases? At first glance that doesn’t seem like much of a return. But to the average brain, those three little phrases in a new language are a TON of new information. They are also extremely useful. By carefully spreading this information out through the half hour, this allows the subconscious mind to assimilate the phrases, and actually be able to memorize and use them, rather than merely being superficially acquainted with them.
As a presenter, I confess that I find it hard to restrain the amount of information I present. One of the reasons I became a speaker is that I want to change the world. I have innumerable ideas about how we can go about it, and I am eager to share them all. Hey, the caterer laid out tons of stuff, why can’t I?
Not So Fast
An effective presentation requires limiting the flow of information. Once you exceed a certain volume of information, it merely bounces off the brain, and it’s the same as no information at all. It's important to remember that the minds of attendees, like their stomachs, can only digest so much at a time. Most people know not to gorge themselves at the buffet table, but in a presentation the presenter controls how much “stuff” is going to be inserted into the attendees’ perceptions.
So the next time you have a presenter with a massive PowerPoint presentation in hand you might want to refer to this article and ask them, “What is the main point of your presentation?” They may feel that they are expected to deliver a ton of information, just as you expected the caterer to deliver a ton of food. We often equate volume with value. Your speaker is eager to please you, so let him know that a digestible amount of information, not an overwhelming load of data demonstrating their expertise, is your expectation, the goal, and the greater value.
Photo by Alexander Novikov | iStockPhoto.com