When Less Is More

For your next presentation, start with a tweet-sized key message and work backwards toward a crowd-pleaser that is clear, concise and compelling.Here is a challenge. In preparing your next major presentation, limit yourself to 140 characters — the same as a tweet — to get across your main point.

Could you do it? Maybe the better question is why you should do it.

"The ability to sharpen an idea so it can be communicated quickly and effectively is becoming critical," writes Ron Ashkenas in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. "In most organizations today, information has expanded while time for analysis and decision-making has shrunk. We cannot afford to wade through reams of material and convoluted arguments. We need to get the core of an issue as quickly as possible."

Just think what it is like for consumers who are barraged by endless forms of advertising while they are shopping, driving to work or surfing on their computers.

As the old writer's axiom goes, it is easier to write a good novel than a great sentence. Zeroing in on your key message can be tough, but it's necessary.

Ashkenas shares a story about an exasperated senior manager who asked a presenter, who had been spouting for 20 minutes, to summarize his point in one or two sentences. "The presenter looked like a deer caught in the headlights," he said. "Without his slides, notes, charts and illustrations, he was lost."

Ashkenas, whose most recent book is titled Simply Effective, suggests starting presentations by turning them into tweets. Squeeze what you want and need to say into a simple phrase or two, perhaps with a clever twist.

Working backwards from there, think how to illustrate your key point in a short series of slides. Ashkenas recommends pretending you are giving a TED talk that will be watched by an audience on YouTube.

Having put yourself in your intended audience's seat, anticipate their questions and answer them in the logic of your presentation.

Important considerations to keep in mind when giving a presentation:

  • You are not the encyclopedia and don't need to share everything you know on a

  • Talk about what you do know.

  • Exude self-confidence based on knowing what you are going to say and saying it clearly and concisely.

"It's not easy to say less and convey more," Ashkenas says. "But if you learn how to do it well, you'll have much more impact on your audience and on your organization."