Simplify the Amount of Detail in a Technical Presentation

Christopher Witt —  June 11, 2015

Simplify Technical Presentations“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” -Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s quotation applies equally well to most technical presentations.  They waste an audience’s attention—they fritter it away—by delving into too much detail. And simplifying them almost always improves them.

Because you are the expert in the topic you’re addressing, you probably know way too much information to present in the time you have available.

Knowing so much is a good thing. It gives you confidence as a presenter. And it makes you credible to the audience.

Trying to present everything you know is a bad thing. Doing so confuses, bores, and turns off your audience.

How do you know which details to present and which to eliminate?

After identifying and validating all the details that are relevant to your topic, follow these…

Three Steps to Simplifying the Amount of Detail in a Technical Presentation

Step 1: Categorize

Sort the information you’ve assembled, placing similar items into a particular category. The kinds of categories will vary depending on the topic, your audience, and your objective.

If I were an expert in wine (I’m not) and I were speaking about wine to a group of enthusiasts, I might group wines by type: red, white, blush, sparkling, and fortified. Or I might categorize them by price: cheap, moderate, expensive. I could sort them by country or region.

If I were making a proposal about adopting a new software system for my company, I might group my information into 1) the problems with the current system, 2) what has already been done to remedy those problems, 3) users’ complaints, 4) alternative systems, 5) their pluses and minuses, 6) transition risks, 7) implementation schedule, and 8) total cost of ownership.

Step 2: Prioritize

Rank the categories you’ve created in terms of importance.

All of the categories might be important, mind you. But given the audience’s needs and the time available, it’s your job as the expert to determine which are the most important.

Step 3: Eliminate entire categories

Begin by cutting the big stuff. Prune off whole limbs before snipping away at the leaves.

I recommend focusing on three to five categories.

So to the wine enthusiasts, I might speak about moderately priced red wines. Given more time, I might speak about cheap, moderately priced, or expensive red wines. Or I might speak about expensive red and white wines.

To the company seeking a new software system, I might speak about 1) the problems with the current system (including users’ complaints), 2) alternative systems, and 3) their pluses and minuses (including risks, implementation schedules, and total cost of ownership).

Don’t fritter away your time or the audience’s attention by presenting too much detail. Simplify. Simplify.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to Simplify the Amount of Detail in a Technical Presentation

  1. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings!