The “less is more” approach to public speaking

I am moving!  My new home is about one quarter the size of my current home.  This is a conscious choice for me as I have begun to realize that the only way we can truly impact our ever growing environmental crisis is to make a much smaller footprint on the planet.  And, I have discovered in the past year that a “less is more” approach to living brings me considerable joy!

(c)Copyright: Carla Kimball, 2009This process of packing, though, is not an easy one.  As I prepare to pack each item, I have to make a decision.  Does it come with me, or do I have to find a new home for it?  I have many things that have been in my life for a long time.  They are important to me.  But are they essential?  That’s the question I have to ask as I pack.  And, if I bring too much stuff with me, there’ll be no space for me to enjoy myself.  (There’s a great video by Annie Leonard called the Story of Stuff which is very worth watching!).

In my work as a public speaking presence coach I’ve found that my clients often confront the same issues.  Most people feel like they won’t be doing their jobs as speakers if they don’t cram everything they know into their talk… if they don’t fill their time with words… if they don’t provide every single piece of useful information on a slide show.

I would say that the bulk of my work with clients is helping them discover the value of “less is more”.

We begin by discovering the value of silence, learning to be comfortable with pausing so that we can give ourselves a chance to regroup and our audience a chance to take in what we’ve said.

(c)Copyright: Carla Kimball, 2009We then focus our attention on the core message. What is it that we want our audience to leave with?  Once we have real clarity on that message, we then identify the minimal number of key points we need to speak about in order for them to fully get what we want them to take away.  In this process, we often have to let go of many of our favorite stories or much of the detail that we are deeply attached to.

Finally, for those clients who use slides in their presentations, we spend a considerable amount of time eliminating the number of slides and the density of information on each slide.  (I’ve written an article on the misuse of PowerPoint called Wake Me When It’s Over! which addresses many of the problems that poorly designed slides shows create.)

One of the many reasons to ruthlessly eliminate information in our slide shows is because too much information on a slide makes it very difficult for our audience to know what to focus on.  Should they read the slide (thereby not listen to us) or should they listen to us (thereby not read the slides)?  Most of the time, they do neither well and so don’t fully get the message.

As speakers, we need to make it easy for the audience to know where to focus their attention.  So, the important question to ask is, what should appear on the slide that will truly support my message?  And, we eliminate everything else (if it’s information that you think they need to have in written form, then create a separate document as a handout).

The process of sorting through everything you could say, letting go of most of it, and staying committed to what’s most essential will make it so much easier for your audience to truly hear your message.  And, then you might even find that when you do this, you and your audience will truly enjoy the experience.

3 thoughts on “The “less is more” approach to public speaking

  1. Digitizing the things we want… hmmm… I wonder if that would end up like the “paperless” world promised to us by computers. I still seem to accumulate way more paper than I should.

    Thanks for your kind words, Jeremy!!!

  2. Maybe what we want to do is digitize our life so we could materialize and dematerialize “things” at will. On the other hand, your photos remind me of what’s most essential, such as beauty, stillness, even space. I really congratulate you, Carla, on taking this next step. You are one of the individuals on this planet who not only follows a spiritual-minded path but allow others to find their own with much greater open-ness, clarity, wisdom and perhaps wit. Thank you for that.

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