People often think that more information is better. Surely, if I pack a ton of words, pictures, and diagrams onto my slide, everyone will have more context, making it easier for them to understand. I’ve found that stripping presentation slides down to one central message makes it much more clear to my audience.
Look at the following shots from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” discussing the results in the recent election of India’s Prime Minister:
Quick, who won the election? Which province had the highest voting participation? What’s the most important piece of information on the screen?
Clearly, it’s difficult to answer the questions. In the actual show, the screens keep changing, flipping back and forth between colors, numbers, and different boxes. You never know where to look, and the information is changing so fast that even if you focus on one point of the screen, you’ll probably miss it.
Our brains can’t handle this much information! So, next time you feel compelled to put ALL the information on a single slide, consider using the glance test. If a slide is well-designed, an audience member should be able to look at it briefly, look away, and tell you the main message from the slide. An audience should be able to understand what you’re trying to say by looking at a slide for no more than 3 seconds.
Which was easier to understand: the election results, or John Oliver? Information overload looks pretty hilarious when it’s featured on a comedy show, but pretty awful when it’s featured in the boardroom.