That describes "infodumping." It's the verbal equivalent of email spam.
It happens for lots of reasons:
- A speaker is more focused on features than benefits, so the presentation becomes the reciting of a list.
- The speaker doesn't know which information is most important and includes everything that's available.
- The speaker hasn't identified a desired outcome, and consequently can't choose the information necessary to achieve his or her goal.
- The speaker ignores or misjudges the audience's familiarity with the topic and provides lots of information without the context to make it meaningful.
- The speaker assumes the more communication the better.
There is a principle in economics that applies equally well to communication. It's called the point of diminishing returns. Simply put, it means more of something is better only up to a point. Once you reach a certain threshold, adding more of something leads to diminishing returns. It's true with almost any element of a presentation. Some humor is good, but too much turns the presentation into a stand-up comedy routine. Some visuals help reinforce ideas, but too many leads to overwhelming the audience.
Are you faced with a mountain of data and can't decide how much information should you include? Use this test: After you've identified a desired outcome for the presentation, ask yourself if the information you are considering will help you achieve your objective. If it will, include it. If it won't, exclude it. It sounds simple, but it takes discipline and a clear focus on outcomes.
Dr. Joseph Sommerville has earned the title "The Presentation Expert" for helping professionals design, develop and deliver more effective presentations. He is the Principal of Peak Communication Performance, a Houston-based firm working worldwide to help professionals develop skills in strategic communication.