A surplus of information creates a paucity of attention.


I’d love to tell you that I found this title line (including the word paucity which needs to find its deserving way back into common conversation) in an academic journal but it actually popped up for me in an excellently hilarious audio book called GUMPTION by Nick Offerman (most famous for television’s Parks and Recreation). A slightly simplistic summary of its context is in relation to Facebook which we all know contains lots of bite-sized pieces of content that ultimately fatigues your brain’s ability to concentrate on anything. The more you add, the worse it gets. In other words, it’s like junk food. Tempting but ultimately bad for you. It’s not a hypothesis; the research exists to support the idea that just because we have access to a lot of information doesn’t actually make us smarter. Unfortunately, there is some proof that the opposite occurs.

Let’s put it in a presentation context.

When I see detail on an early slide in the deck, and a hint that much more detail is to come, I have a predictably uncomfortable reaction. My instinct is to flee, because my primitive brain is lazy and wants to conserve energy for survival and procreation, not try and understand or remember all of the bullet-points, data and graphs that are being unleashed. That’s not to say I don’t want to learn anything new; I simply want to learn in a way that captures me with intrigue, emotion and personal relevance. In other words, I want to be drawn into a captivating story I know I will be transfixed by for a short period of time.


Just about every presenter and deck writer I have worked with fear lack of detail in their presentation because of the implication that they don’t know their subject matter intimately and a grouchy boss will mention afterwards that they missed a key detail. This is interesting in itself. Is the presentation for the boss or the audience? The illusion that every bullet–point you meticulously add to a slide deck will be understood and retained by your audience is of course ridiculous and yet … people keep doing it.

Rather than risk this very piece containing a surplus of information, I’ll conclude with a suggestion that you start a presentation with only two questions. 1. What is the one most important new idea you want your audience to know at the end of the presentation? and 2. How do you want your audience to feel? Let those two questions guide you for your slides and presentation construction, and put the detail that may be relevant to what happens next in a little handout or email follow up. Your audience will applaud the simplicity of your message and if they ask questions about detail at the end, that’s sensational.  You gained their attention and they asked for more. Job done.


Adam Blackwell


This article was taken from our Book of Stun. For more on this and other cool stuff, order your free copy today.