Can we all agree on a few things? People are busy, schedules are packed. Attention spans are short, distractions are many. Time is a scarce commodity, meetings are too long.
If you agree (and I’m guessing you do), then you’ll probably agree with the assertion that too much information — TMI — can be a career killer. Those who deliver data dumps, provide far greater detail than necessary, offer every piece of background on a project beginning with day one or rehash the same information over and over are the scourge of conference rooms everywhere. Reactions to TMI range from the relatively innocuous eye roll to the more career-stunting exclusion from future meetings.
Sure, information is crucial in many cases — important data, details, statistics, examples, background, etc. Building understanding, gaining consensus or providing an update often require lots of information. But still, people are busy, attention spans are short and time is scarce. So how can you ensure you are not one of those people? What do you need to do in order to be more concise and impactful when you communicate? How can you conquer — or at least harness — TMI?
Here are some helpful tips:
1. Ask yourself three questions about your audience.
Are they in the room out of choice or obligation? How far up the learning curve are they? And what do they really care about? The answers will guide you in terms of anticipating their patience for lots of information, whether they need a lot of background or not, and how to satisfy their hot-button (“what’s in it for me?”) information needs.
Neither your desire to be comprehensive nor your personal interests should drive what type and how much information you share. Instead, your audience’s appetite and interests should be the drivers.
2. Make sure you can summarize a chunk of information into a concise, meaningful statement.
Since information is merely evidence to support a point, then the meaningful statement should be your point. Ideally, you state your point (in one sentence) before you share the evidence that backs it up. Stating the point first gives the evidence, or information, context. For reinforcement, follow the recitation of information by reiterating the point as a wrap-up. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Wrong.
Identifying a point is actually where the hard work of being an effective and impressive communicator comes into play. If you’re being informative, your points will sound a lot like a summary statement or conclusion that captures the importance of a grouping of evidence. If you’re being persuasive, your points will sound like statements that convey significance, value or benefit.
3. Prioritize your information and regard it as the modular portion of your communication.
In other words, know which pieces of information are your best and be prepared to share those first. That way, if you run out of time, you will have stated a point and the best possible pieces of evidence to back it up. When you have more time and interest from your audience, you can add in more information after the highlights — in descending order of importance. Conversely, when you are prepared to deliver a 20-minute presentation but the meeting leader looks at the clock and asks if there’s any way you can deliver it in five, you can confidently say yes. You simply go to your point, then add a highlight or two; go to the next point, add a highlight or two — and you’re done.
Death by TMI comes in two forms: when information is dumped and there is no point to contain it or give it meaning, and when the speaker leads with information and the audience is lost before a point is ever made. Information, on its own, doesn’t make a point. On the food chain of communication, pieces of information are the weeds that exist to feed the bigger picture points. If you can articulate a point and prioritize your information, then you can conquer the TMI syndrome.