Reduce the words in each point; Issue #283 April 2, 2013

In my latest book, Present It So They Get It, I provide five strategies for reducing the information in your presentation down to just what the audience needs to know. Information overload is the single biggest issue in presentations today, and in my workshops, this section on reducing information overload is always a popular one for the participants. Today I want to extend one of the strategies so it is even more applicable to many presentations.

One strategy I share in the book and my workshops is the 3R’s strategy for reducing the number of bullet points on a slide. It works well, and people see how it can reduce a list of fifteen or twenty bullet points down to four or five. What I also discovered is that this strategy can be used to reduce the text within a bullet point as well.

Sometimes I see slides where they have five or six bullet points on a slide, but each one is three or four lines long. All that text overwhelms the audience and they can’t figure out what the message is. Research by Prof. Richard Meyer has shown that additional detail on our slides makes it harder for the audience to comprehend what we are trying to say.

To reduce the text in a single bullet point, I apply the 3R’s, which are Rank, Reduce, and Rephrase. I rank the words or phrases in the text by importance to the audience. There are usually a few words or phrases that capture the essence of the point. Second, I reduce the text down to just the most important words or phrases, dramatically reducing the length of the point. Finally, I rephrase the selected words and phrases so that they make sense to the audience. Sometimes this means creating a second point because the first one contained two key points.

By having shorter, more meaningful points on the slide, you make it easier for the audience to understand the key point and then listen to you as you expand on it. They are doing less reading of the slide and paying more attention to you. It is also easier as a presenter because you can expand as much or as little as you want on each point, depending on the timing and audience.

Here are two examples from a slide I used this strategy on for a workshop a few months ago:

Original point: Maintain the Company’s Records for the duration of the retention period specified in the Records Retention Schedule and conduct the deletion or destruction of Records in accordance with this Policy.
Revised point: Maintain records during retention period

Original point: Identify the Company’s Records to facilitate access to information required to conduct the Company’s business and to comply with applicable statutes and regulations, including recordkeeping, privacy, security and confidentiality requirements.
Revised points:
Facilitate access to information
Comply with applicable statutes and regulations

See how much easier it is for both audience and presenter when you reduce the words in each point on your slides. Try it on one or two of your slides and see how much more effective your presentation will be.