You’ve probably been in a situation where someone was giving a presentation about something technical. I’m willing to bet money that the presenter was either a scientist, engineer, or holds some other technical profession. I’m also willing to bet money that this same presenter we are talking about presented something like this:
And you, of course, had a face similar to this:
It’s not like these technical people are stupid – on the contrary, in most cases these guys are extremely smart people.
So what the hell is going on?
Put simply, technical people love data. And I don’t mean love in an “aww” kind of way. I mean love in an obsessive “I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU” kind of way.
The issue stems from technical people wanting to be as thorough as humanly possible. This is to ensure, with absolute certainty, that they can prove that the message they are trying to communicate to the audience is correct. Technical people want to prove a hypothesis and figure the best way to do that is to include as much data as possible into their PowerPoint presentations.
So, you have a technical person, lots of data, and limited resources (i.e. time, space on a slide, etc.) to communicate a message.
What are you left with?
Complicated slides that nobody understands or even wants to understand.
Because the technical presenter is making the audience do extra work.
The truth is a presenter is in no position to force the audience to do extra work. Instead, the presenter is supposed to do the hard work on behalf of the audience by making the message simple enough to understand.
I’ve already discussed why simplicity is key when it comes to making your own PowerPoint slides, and you can read it over here. This is a principle that every presenter or presentation designer should follow without question.
What I am saying is to find ways to simplify a complex message. For me, this usually means to stick to the big ideas only and to focus on the data that matters rather than the data that might matter.
Some presenters like to use handouts with the extra data so that the audience can refer to them when needed.
Personally, I find handouts a bit distracting and a waste of paper. So I tend to go with an appendix instead.
What I do is usually make a section titled “appendix” and stick all of the data I might need in there. This way, if an audience member asks for something in specific in relation to the data, I can go to the slides in the appendix section and discuss them in detail.
Just keep in mind the appendix is something you refer to, not actually present.
Technical people need to stop packing data into their slides. The more data a technical person adds, the more complex the technical person’s message will be. Technical people should think of ways to educate and inspire their audience through simplification.
Simplifying complex information is not easy. However, it is required to ensure the audience is understanding your message.