Information Overload: How to Avoid It When Presenting to Leadership

You’re a detail-oriented person working in a highly technical position. You probably wonder how much detail you should go into when presenting to managers and leaders. You may even have been asked not to go into information overload again.

You’re not alone. This is a topic that comes up a lot in our presentation skills workshops.

First, let’s acknowledge that you’re in this position because your strengths lie in your attention to detail and technical nit-pickery. That’s great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a natural at communicating higher-level information about what the details mean to the business or the decision that’s being made as a result of the details.

How to minimize information overload

So, just how much detail should you go into during presentations? It depends on a lot of factors, but here are two concepts to keep in mind.

Focus on what the details mean to the business, not just the details themselves

When you’re presenting detail-heavy or technical information, keep the big picture in mind. Make the conversation be about what the details mean to the business, rather than what the details are. For example, imagine you’re a financial analyst. You’re presenting the quarterly review to leadership. Your focus should go to the quarter’s key metrics and how they compare to the previous quarter, not the raw numbers by themselves. Your presentation should bring out the important insights that the quarter’s metrics are indicating for the business.

In certain situations, it might be very tempting to add a lot of data. You might think that presenting to leadership with a lot of data will bring out the complete picture. But that is not the case. Too much data crammed into one presentation is counterproductive. It encourages the audience to read your slides and disengages them from what you are saying. This is not good if you want to make an effective presentation.

Instead, take the storytelling approach for managing information overload. Focus on the elements that are relevant for the presentation. Take the important metrics and build a narrative that conveys the essence of all the details that you have for the leadership. 

Help your audience make a decision

Technical people often present to managers and leaders when there’s a decision to be made. Ask yourself, “How much information will they need in order to make the decision?” Your answer to that question should guide the way. For example, if they’re trying to decide how much capital to hold in reserve for the coming month, you don’t need to go into what all of the upcoming expenses are going to be; rather, your focus should go to the bottom-line figures. If they want detail, they’ll ask.

Don’t get me wrong, the details are important. Without analysis and attention to the details, business would grind to a halt. So always keep in mind that leadership pays you to do two things. The first is to work with the details so that they don’t have to. The second is to make sense of the details so that they can do their jobs.

Remember to check our resource page for regular educational posts on topics like this and more.

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About the Author: Greg Owen-Boger

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches and holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s founder, Dale Ludwig.

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