In our distracted world, it can feel like no one is listening. Or at least they aren’t listening the first time, or the second. Maybe the third time’s a charm? Because of this, we feel the need to overcommunicate. As often as we can we send as much information as we can. Because after all, the devil is in the details.
Have you heard that saying before? It means that even the smallest things can trip us up if we don’t pay attention to them. So we send out every possible piece of information anyone could possibly need to know. Our paragraph-long email turns into two pages, and our 10-minute presentation is now pushing an hour. After all, we’ve got to cover every little detail, right? Plus, we have to cover it multiple times to allow for those who were distracted.
But can I be honest with you? I’m worried about this trend of overcommunication. The devil might be in the details, but so is the distraction. Details are important, yes. But we can’t let them cloud our communication. Otherwise, they become the distraction we were so afraid of in the first place.
Instead of overcommunicating, we can use simplification, repetition, and amplification to get our message across. These three techniques are highlighting strategies, meaning they help our audience understand and focus on what matters most.
In an article for Forbes, Ken Makovsky says, “In summary, over-communicating in today’s environment—with all the distractions afoot—may become the rule rather than the exception.” We are a distracted society. However, when you “overcommunicate” it means you communicate too much. Your messages have reached the point at which there are too many details or you start to annoy the audience with your repetition. One of the ways to avoid overcommunication is to minimize the amount of information you are throwing at your audience. This means you need to get serious about editing things out. Instead of listing details that don’t really help your audience understand your message, use that extra time to communicate the most important things via different channels.
That’s were repetition comes in. It’s true that humans need repetition. Even if your audience did catch your point the first time, hearing it a second time drives it home. But you need to be selective about what you repeat and how you repeat it. Great marketers don’t just send out the exact same message in the same format. They use all different mediums—email, direct mail, social media, television, radio, billboards, and more. You can do the same thing in your presentation. Think about using not just your words to repeat the most important point, but think about putting these on the slides, distributing them via handouts following the presentation, or engaging the audience beyond the event in social media and reminding them of the main points that way. Get creative with what you choose to repeat and how you repeat it. This will help you avoid the annoying data dump of overcommunication.
Scott McCloud is a comic. But if you’ve read his book, Understanding Comics, you know he’s so much more than that. He has a unique and profound way of understanding and writing/drawing about human communication. Take a look at what he’s saying here.
He’s talking about amplification–highlighting–spotlighting. When we are developing a presentation, it’s not about cramming every single detail we can into the minutes or the slides that we have. If we are doing that, we’re overcommunicating. Instead, we need to highlight the details matter most, the ones we want to stand out to the audience. We have to shine a spotlight only on certain parts of our message. We can do this in many ways. For example, we could increase our volume to show the audience this part matters. Or we can use bold fonts to help point the audience toward certain words or concepts (see how McCloud did that in the example above?) In this way, we amplify and elevate certain parts of our message.
What are the main messages you are trying to communicate? Isolate those. Don’t overcommunicate details that don’t matter. Instead, simplify your message. Repeat that message in creative and varied formats. And amplify only the most important details so they stand out.
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