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Content Tips: How Much is Too Much?

I’ve been working with a group of technical professionals this week and am running into a familiar techie issue. My technical guys love monologue. And the longer, more data packed and deeply obscure the better. They make the case that if they are speaking to a technical audience, a complex presentation is expected; and, as long as that presentation is well structured, I can go along with it. The problem is that most of these presenters are techies speaking to a non-technical prospect. And that prospect is far more interested in the solution to his/her problem than in hearing the technical details of the subject matter itself. They just want to know what time it is, and they really don’t care how the clock works.


It’s not just technical people who struggle with this issue. Most subject matter experts can fall into the same trap. When you are passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, your natural instinct is to share it with others. You may have a drive to fulfill your own interest by telling your audience everything you know and love about your subject. But that can be overwhelming for an audience and your best intentions, which may indeed be to inform and inspire, will soon go south and take your audience with them.


So what can you do?

Keep in mind that what an audience usually needs is a lot less detail than you think it does. If you know one hundred percent about your topic, most audiences only need to hear five percent. As hard as that is to believe, think about it this way. You have spent years, perhaps decades learning the details of your subject and you may be spending a mere twenty to sixty minutes speaking about that topic in a presentation. You can easily see why for most audiences, less information is far more effective and manageable. Unless you are speaking to an audience who shares your industry expertise, give them the Cliff Notes. They will thank you for it.


Organize Your Main Points

Once you whittle down the topic to fit your audience and timeframe, break it up into small chunks. Pull out the three-to-five main points and build your presentation around them. Hearing a presenter tell me they are going to cover the top twenty-five tips for this or that is like an intravenous feed directly to my sleepy gene. I know in a matter of minutes (probably by number five) I’ll be snoozing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have those twenty-five items in your talk. But you will be much better off clustering them into groups of three or five and labeling them sub-points instead of main points so that your audience doesn’t get overwhelmed.


When you structure your material in a way that is palatable by offering small bites instead of mouthfuls you can trust that your audience will digest it easily and not choke or gag on TMI.


You can also rest assured that they won’t be checking (or choking) the clock.


January 22nd, 2010 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

6 Responses to Content Tips: How Much is Too Much?

  1. kristen jacobsen

    HI Angela,
    It’s been a long time, Angela. Remember, we worked together on Autodesk programs?

    I was reading your piece on audiences getting overwhelmed with technical info. I want to send you a link to an interesting person and company I met with a few weeks ago. His name is Murugasan Nielsen and his company is Notabene

    check it out - seems you and notabene are on a similar path.

    I hope you are very well Angela.

  2. Mike K Smith

    Great post. “…if they are speaking to a technical audience, a complex presentation is expected.” As one of the technical guys, I can definitely agree that the complex presentation is EXPECTED, but also as one of the audience, it’s usually painful to sit through. Even if it’s your pet topic. There are a hundred things waiting for you back at your desk and the complexities others face don’t often help with *your* problems. It’s sometimes even difficult to know how to contribute to discussion because the important parts of the technical presentation are buried so deep. Then it truly becomes a monologue. And how can THAT be fun for any audience? ;-)

    Great stuff though. Thanks.

  3. Theresa

    Fantastic post. Viewers just want the bottom line - what is in it for me and why should it matter? We’ve used the clock analogy before & it is dead on.

    I work with attorneys and expert witnesses to simplify their message to judges and jurors. We always get resistence from our clients about whether their language and ultimately their message is being understood by the audience. Attorneys and experts are more confident using the technical jargon they’ve always relied on. It is a constant challenge!

  4. Angela DeFinis

    Hi Kristin,
    Yes, of course I remember you! All those ladder falls, how could I forget. Are you still working at Catalyst? Please say hello to the team there if you are. Thanks for reaching out. I’ll definitely check our Notabene. My very best to you, Angela

  5. Angela DeFinis

    Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your comment since you are living this first hand. My heart goes out to you! Angela

  6. Angela DeFinis

    Thanks, Theresa. Yes it is a constant, sometimes daunting challenge yet a worthy one. Our clients need us to help them stay focused on the main event-the audience! Angela

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