When is the topic of simplification more salient than during this season, as we all scramble around to get organized for the holidays and dawning of a new year? With the constant conflicting demands of stressful professional lives and hectic personal obligations, it can be easy to forget to step back, breathe in and simplify.
Simplification not only soothes our souls, but also our minds. Our brains are drawn to information presented in a simple and straightforward way: Simple information rises above the noise. Organizing information primes it for easy consumption, but the further step of simplification can make information even easier to recall. When presenting make sure to use understandable and simple communication. When presenting data, refine and reduce the information on the slide.
The key to an understandable presentation is understandable language. When writing a script, be sure that the writing reflects normal speaking styles. Use small words, direct sentences and the active voice. Even when presenting to an educated or specialized audience, using large words, jargon or complex sentences decreases the rate of comprehension. The audience may still be processing the last point as new information is presented.
When sending out a presentation that the audience will read on their own, remember that most Americans read at a 7th or 8th grade level. (source) Microsoft Word has a built in readability tool, based on Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, that grades copy as it’s written. Shoot for reading ease of 70% or higher.
It is always tempting to include the “full picture” when displaying data. Complex concepts often mean charts with two vertical axes, annotations or multiple data sets. Put a data display visual to the test by asking, What is the ONE point of this slide? If the answer has an “and” or “unless” in it, your data is too complicated and should be broken onto two slides (or built in with animation). And of course, always make sure to use the best format for your data.
In our busy world of constant information exchange, a simplified presentation is a breath of fresh air. Rise above the din by, simplifying your language and data. Always live by the “One point per slide” rule and extend it to your sentences. Straightforward information in bite size chunks has the best chance of being heard, understood and remembered.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
― Henry David Thoreau
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