You’re staring at a fistful of slides from your upcoming presentation for the hundredth time and it hits you like a ton of bricks: all of this is much too complicated. You suddenly realize that your presentation sounds like every day of high school Calculus when your teacher may as well have been lecturing in Latin. It doesn’t make sense because it’s too complicated. You start having a mild panic attack…

Relax. It’s going to be okay. A few small adjustments can save your presentation. First, find the crux of your idea. What are you trying to prove? What point are you trying to make? Next, think of how you would explain it to a 10-year-old child, or better yet, a 5-year-old. Say it the simplest way you can. Write it down the simplest way you can. Say it out loud. Say it again.

Now that you have the bare bones of your presentation, build the rest of your presentation around that particular simplicity. Keep words few and far between. Use pictures, images, illustrations, models– anything visual. Void any and all unnecessary information, even if it seemed like a great, life-altering idea when you wrote it. Be firm in your erasure of the unnecessary. People like simple. Especially now– in the 21st century– era of perpetual ADD, 140 character limits, status updates and Wiki-Everything.

Consider this quote from the 2009 movie Up in the Air with George Clooney:

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag

Think of your presentation as that backpack. How much does your presentation weigh? Feel the weight of it on your back. Imagine the weight of it on someone else’s shoulders. Think about being in that conference room, imparting that weight on someone else. Is it too heavy? Is it too light? Is it an appropriate weight for the content inside?

Consider these questions before you finalize your presentation. Keep in mind that the weight of your backpack, of your presentation, will be resting on another’s shoulders when you finish. Did you explain it simply enough that the backpack is light and free of stress? Or did you stuff that backpack so tightly with such heavy material that it’s dragging on the ground off the backs of your audience?

Avoid strapping your audience to a heavy backpack. They’ll appreciate something light and easy to carry. They’ll remember you for your brevity and thoughtfulness (no one wants to add any more weight to their already very full backpack…).

How can you simplify your backpack?

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