How much is too much information?

My presentation coach, Cliff Atkinson, designed a great form to help you organize the content for your presentations, webinars, and videos. You can download the free form at the Microsoft Office template site:

I prepared a short video on how to use this form to help you identify the 3-4 main points for your presentation.

Why is it important to have only 3-4 main points in a 45-minute presentation? I’ll tell you more about that in the blog post below.

You might think there is no such thing as too much information, but you would be wrong! We all deal with information overwhelm in our busy lives.

So how can you balance that against what we’re always told about offering valuable content and “wow-ing” your audience, clients, prospects, students, readers by giving them so much great content?

The fairly new field of neuro-economics is telling us that people make better decisions when they have fewer choices. Following this suggestion, many 401Ks and other retirement programs are now offering members a shorter list of funds in which to invest.

Barry Schwartz explains this in great detail in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, claiming that decisions require more effort when there are too many choices.

Neuro-marketing authors and researchers give us similar advice about making our message shorter in order to target what they call “the old brain”: the emotional, self-centered, visually-oriented, decision-making part of our brain that prefers short, pithy, easily digestible chunks of information!

There are actually some pretty well-documented guidelines for determining the right amount of information to share without overwhelming your audience.

Back in the 1950s, psychologist George A. Miller published a research paper called “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.” His research indicated that most people could only process about 7 pieces of information at a time.

Over the years since then, numerous other researchers have refined this study and reduced the recommended number of information chunks to 3 or 4.

How can you “wow” your audience if you only share 3 or 4 pieces of information? How can you stretch that into a 45-minute presentation?

Relax! This guideline doesn’t mean you can only talk about 3 or 4 things, unless your speech is only 5-10 minutes in length.

For a 20- to 30-minute talk, think in terms of identifying 3 or 4 primary points you want your audience to remember when your presentation is over. Then present 3-4 subpoints as support for each main point.

If you’re giving a 45-60 minute presentation, you can add another layer of 3-4 details as evidence for each subpoint.

Be sure to watch the video above and learn how to use the Beyond Bullet Points Story Template for planning your presentation content.

Then share your comments or questions about this blog post or share a comment about the video on my YouTube channel. Thanks!

What’s Your Plan for 2012?

2012 Sales and Marketing Plan
Planning for Success in 2012

Have you written your sales and marketing plan for the next year?

Whether you own a business or you work for someone else, it’s important to write out your plan.

How do presentations fit into your 2012 plan?  And what are your goals for improving your presentations?

If you give sales presentations, write down how many appointments you want to schedule for each month or each week.  If you’re doing marketing, write down your goals for increasing the number of prospects or leads you generate from each presentation.

If you provide training, think about what improvements you’d like to see on your evaluation forms or improvements in the end results of your training, such as error reduction on the job or higher utilization of the program you teach people to use or fewer call center complaints in client service.

Now think about what changes you can make to your presentations in order to achieve the goals you’ve identified.  How will you increase conversions in your sales presentations or improve learning outcomes from your training presentations?

Do you already know what to do and just need to set a plan in place for applying the knowledge?  Do you need an accountability partner to hold you to your commitment?  Or do you need to learn some new skills and techniques or get guidance and a fresh perspective from someone else?

Typically, your sales and marketing plan should include goals for your own skill development.  Write down the areas where you know you need to improve and then commit to investing in yourself by registering for a class or signing up for coaching.

Plan your work, then work your plan, and course-correct along the way.

Share a comment below about your plans for making 2012 a success!

Happy New Year!

Great Speakers and Presenters

I recently had the privilege of hearing some fantastic speakers at JT Foxx’s MegaPartnering IV event in Chicago.  All the presenters shared great content, but some definitely stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Rudy Giuliani, JT Foxx, and Susan Schleef at MegaPartnering IV

At MegaPartnering IV

Rudy Giuliani impressed me with his passion on stage and inspired me with his message about leadership, including stories of the challenging days after 9/11/2001.

Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, shared his wisdom and experience as well as entertaining us with amusing stories.  Best of all, when he combines wisdom and humor, the lessons sink in even more deeply.  (If you’ve never heard Nido Qubein speak, find his videos on YouTube.)

Stedman Graham spoke with such sincerity, the entire room of more than 400 attendees was rapt with attention.  When he shared a story, “The Race”, I was moved to tears despite having heard him present it before.  It is clear how much he cares deeply about helping people grow and evolve.  He presents well because he cares about the people in the audience.

It is interesting to me that these 3 high-profile, professional speakers all avoid the use of any type of visual aid.  Yet they were by far the most charismatic speakers at the entire 3-day MegaPartnering event.

Of course I believe that slide presentations can enhance many types of speeches.  But motivational, inspirational, entertaining speeches are the one category where visuals seem superfluous.

But even more importantly, I believe that far too many speakers use their slides as a crutch to cover up poorly planned content, lack of rapport with the audience, and underdeveloped presentation skills.  And so they lack the charismatic connection with their audience.

The ultimate goal, regardless of what type of presentation you deliver, is to affect your audience in some way.

If you can reach your audience well with the addition of visual aids on screen, this can increase your effect on the audience.  But far too often, the slides become the main presentation and the audience suffers from that loss.

I’d be curious to hear what speakers have inspired and impressed you, either with or without visual aids.  Please share your comments below.

Are you making your audience multi-task?

There have been a lot of stories about multi-tasking in the news lately and the research conclusions are pretty consistent:  Multi-tasking actually causes you to complete tasks more slowly and with a higher error rate, even if you think you’re really good at multi-tasking!

Some experts differentiate between background multi-tasking, like listening to music while driving or studying, and switch-tasking, which involves trying to focus on multiple activities at the same time, all of which require attention.

If you’re one of those who still believes you can get more done by multi-tasking, see what results you get on the free exercise at — or better yet, read his book, “The Myth of Multitasking”.

So what about the audience multi-tasking?  No, I’m not just referring to the people who insist on texting or checking their email when they’re bored during your presentation.  I’m talking about what happens in your audience’s brains when they try to listen to you while they read your text-heavy, bullet-pointed slides.

In the world of multimedia learning research, there are 2 principles that related to this concept of multi-tasking:

One is called the split attention effect and it says that presenting different types of information through the same mode (visual or auditory) reduced learning and retention.  An example of the split attention effect would be showing a picture and text on the same screen to describe the same concept in two different ways.

The second is the redundancy effect, which states that presenting identical information through both the visual and auditory modes at the same time is ineffective.  Examples of the redundancy effect are the common approach to presentations, namely having the presenter/narrator speak the same words that are printed on the screen.

By ignoring either of these multimedia principles in your presentations, you are essentially asking your audience to multi-task!

The combined effect of these two principles indicates that the best way to present multimedia information is to offer supporting, but not duplicate, information through the two modalities, visual and auditory.  It is commonly agreed that the best approach is to use spoken narration for the text and relevant pictures on the screen.

While there has not been as much research regarding the split attention effect for adults watching a presentation, I am seeing more and more books, blog posts, articles, videos, and other publications coming out in support of presentations with less text and more pictures to achieve better results in all types of presentations.