If you have ever heard of the term death by PowerPoint, then you’ll know that it’s a phenomenon that’s real in every workspace. Recall the presentations with big walls of text, crammed layout, or too many elements all in one slide, and you’ll remember the overwhelming feeling of watching a bad presentation.
The concept of information overload has a lot to do with the “death of PowerPoint” in presentations. Most of us have experienced information overload in our lives, while many of us have also caused it with our own congested presentations.
In this article, we’ll go into detail about what information overload is, and we’ll share 6 ways on how to combat information overload when creating our presentations.
What is Information Overload?
Information overload is when there’s too much data or information presented that it leaves the audience lost, confused, or unable to grasp the central message of the presentation.
When you have surpassed your audience’s capacities, your presentation runs counterproductive and your audience now retains less information as you put out more information.
As presenters, our goal is to deliver maximum value to your audience, but this does not necessarily mean delivering the most information possible. Here are 6 ways on how to deliver a brain-friendly and effective presentation, while combating information overload.
Source: Free Brain PowerPoint template by SlideHunter.com
How to prevent information overload in your presentations
1. Avoid the scarcity mindset.
The temptation to put every single thing into your presentation is strong, and it’s often fuelled by what’s called the scarcity mindset. When you have this kind of mindset, you think that this presentation will be the only time you’ll have with your audience, so you must take advantage of the time and cram as much information as possible.
Falling into this kind of mindset becomes counterproductive for your presentation. Instead of learning more, your audience actually retains less information when there is too much of it in your presentation. You cannot and should not try to relay everything to know about your topic in just one presentation.
A better way to think about your presentation is as an introduction to your topic, rather than a one-off event. Depending on the situation, you can expand on that topic through various channels, such as a Q&A session, a future follow-up presentation, or by connecting with your audience through the internet.
2. Less is more in presentations.
Take note that humans can only take in so much before they can no longer process new information. The more points you try to include in your presentation, the less powerful and memorable each point becomes. You also run the risk of losing your audience’s interest if you go beyond their capacities to take in information.
Oftentimes, less is truly more when it comes to presentations. Instead of squeezing in ten ideas into one talk, it’s more effective to introduce two or three central ideas that you build on for the rest of your presentation, this is especially useful when you plan on how to start the presentation. This way, you can make sure to relay the heart of your topic with the most impact on your audience.
The study The Magical Number Seven, written by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller, is useful to understand how this affects memory capacity. Known as Miller’s law, this law argues that the number of ideas or concepts an average human can hold in his short-term memory is seven plus-minus two.
3. Keep it visual.
The number one culprit of information overload is the wall of text that fills up your entire slide. Your audience cannot read your text and listen to you at the same time, and this is simply too overwhelming for anyone to take in.
As the popular adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and that is especially true in presentations. Visual elements like pictures, infographics, charts, and other graphics can get your point across more quickly and effectively. And they eliminate the chunky blocks of text that saturate your audience. To create beautiful and professional slides, good presentation backgrounds can be used to create a unique impact on the audience and highlight the presentation.
If you ever need to include more information aside from what’s on your slides that cannot be expressed through visuals, then consider making supplementary handouts for your audience to go through at their own pace.
4. Make your slides breathe.
The layout and design of your slides can also contribute to the overwhelming feeling of information overload. The different elements in your slide may be too crowded together, too little in size, or too straining for the eyes. So even if you haven’t put that much information in your slides, the poor layout evokes the same miserable feeling in your audience.
White space is the key to making your slides easy on the eyes. Going back to the concept of less is more, the fewer elements you have on your slide, the more purposeful and memorable they become. Allow ample space between different elements, and keep everything (especially text) big and readable even at the back of the room.
5. Stay relevant.
Different audiences will require different ways of how you present your topic. Your crowds will have different levels of prior knowledge about your topic, and you’ll need to adjust what you present depending on what they want or need to know.
When you’re speaking in a business or academic setting with professionals in the field, you are allowed to be more technical in your content, but you cannot use the same slides when presenting to a general audience of non-experts.
Stay relevant by tailoring your content to your audience’s capabilities, desires, and needs. If possible, find out early on what the general population of the audience will be, so you can structure your presentation’s level of depth accordingly.
6. Tell a story.
One strategy to keep your audience hooked until the very end is to tell a story. Humans are wired to learn new knowledge best when it is presented as a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
By having a natural flow to your ideas, you empower your audience to connect these ideas together to build on your central idea. Because of this, these ideas stick to their heads and your message can endure long after the end of the presentation.
No matter what the field, information overload seems to be a problem that everybody has experienced. But as professionals, we can avoid information overload in our personal workspaces by creating smarter and cleaner presentations that can get your message across without overwhelming your audience.