You can overcome Death by TMI (Too Much Information)


It’s not just PowerPoint and its misuse that can cause death to an audience’s interest. If you found yourself suffering during a presentation it was probably boredom – from a boring presenter who was not excited about his subject, from an overloaded, boring slideshow, and most assuredly from an overloaded, information packed presentation, given with no thought to your comfort, your interests or your needs.

As presenters, why do we do this? Why do we feel compelled to force too much information into our presentations?

One reason I am very familiar with is the need to showcase our knowledge. This may be as basic as a novice presenter desperate to gain credibility and kudos for their knowledge. So many of us go into public speaking thinking we need to do this to be liked and respected by the audience. Hence we construct a speech filled with as much information as we can pack into it. Unfortunately, when this is the main aim, we lose sight of the point of the speech and the needs of the audience and consequently have no clear message. And oftentimes, rather than impressing the audience, we end up annoying them. The worst-case-scenario is giving the impression that we really don’t understand the big picture or the relevance of the information. An annoyed audience and a lack of understanding of the topic are not good indicators for a successful presentation or for being rehired.

Another reason for stuffing a presentation with information may be lack of preparation. Perhaps the speaker has been called upon at the last minute. Perhaps they have had their time limit extended unexpectedly. Perhaps they have little experience in presenting. The result is an audience that simply ends up confused.

The third reason for TMI (Too much information) can be enthusiasm – enthusiasm for the subject, enthusiasm for the opportunity to share the information, enthusiasm for the chance to present. There is nothing wrong with enthusiasm. It can be a powerful engagement tool, but when it leads to an enthusiastic deluge of information, the result is not powerful engagement. The audience gets bored. Their brains signal overload and irritation sets n. The brain can really only absorb 3 points at any one time. The maximum is 7 (hence the early telephone numbers having 7 digits). Once it has to deal with much more than that, it needs to go into a different, more difficult processing mode. That’s where the irritation sets in –boredom and a desire to escape or tune out – death by TMI!

Finally there is the belief that decisions are made on rational consideration of the facts. So we give our audiences masses of facts that prove the point we are making – statistics, reports, graphs and diagrams, proof in all its forms. And they tune out. Given the indication that they are going to be subjected to too much information, they start being selective about what they remember. And that choice won’t always necessarily be the one we wanted them to make.
The answer lies in a series of decisions we need to make when we start putting together our presentations and speeches.

The first thing to decide is – what do you want your audience to do, think or feel at the end of your speech? What is the ultimate outcome you want from it? State that in one sentence so that you are laser focussed on it.

You will need to know your audience in order to do this. Always, always, always take them into account. What do they need from you? What do they want from you? What would they think was valuable about a speaker and his material? What will excite them?

So choose your outcome based on those aspects of your audience.

Then choose the points you will use to create that outcome.

Choose them based on what your audience will remember.

Choose them based on what will engage this audience.

And choose them based on the length of the speech. There should be three main points, or sections. If it is a longer presentation, then have three subdivisions of those main points. Expect to have about one main point per 10 minutes of presentation.

Then choose material to support those points that can be remembered and repeated. People buy on emotion and rationalise their decisions with logic, even if they are buying ideas. So use emotional supports as well as logical ones. Use phrases that can be repeated – by you throughout the speech and by your audience members later as prompts to memory. And aim to have one thing – just one thing – that is absolutely memorable and stands out from the whole presentation. It may be an object. It may be a story. It may be an image. But make it so graphic that it sticks in the mind of your audience long after you are finished. Make it something they will chat about afterwards. And make it something that will instantly remind them of the outcome that you wanted.

Once you have your material ready and have rehearsed, prepare for changes in the length of time available to you. If it is suddenly announced that you have extra time, have extra that you can add. If it is suddenly announced that time has been cut, know what you can cut from your material and still succeed with the presentation.

If you choose material that is suited to your audience you will maintain their attention and engagement. If you limit it to a few powerful points you will maintain their attention and engagement and you will make it easy for them to remember your material. If you add memory triggers to the mix, then your outcomes should be assured. Those are the things that will showcase your knowledge (winnowing out the important points), ensure you are prepared, communicate your enthusiasm and guarantee that your audience thinks, acts or believes what it was you wanted them to.

Author: Bronwyn Ritchie
If you want to include this article in your publication, please do, but please include the following information with it:
Bronwyn Ritchie is a professional librarian, writer, award-winning speaker and trainer. She is a certified corporate trainer and speech contest judge with POWERtalk, a certified World Class Speaking coach, and has had 30 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking. In just 6 months time, you could be well on the way to being admired, rehired as a speaker, confident and sucessful, with the 30 speaking tips. Click here for 30 speaking tips for FREE. Join now or go to

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *