I am always researching and polling, and, therefore, listening to the answers people and other presentation coaches give about all things related to presentations. I am always interested to hear how people interpret the industry in a million different ways, and since there are no regulations, it’s all open to interpretation.
I have done extensive research and written past articles about the Rule of 3 and its importance. Studies have proven that the human mind can only remember three to four chunks of information at a time. Three is also sticky; allowing the information to remain in the listeners’ minds far after the speaking engagement has ended.
The critical error is that business professionals and public speaking coaches view the Rule of 3 as equivalent to simplification. In the process of narrowing your talking points down to a minimum of three, many others will tell you that you have simplified your presentation. These two concepts are not the same, in fact, they are quite different.
Simplification, as I use it, stems from the type of interpretation you see at national parks, zoos and historical parks where the docent precedes to decode the actions of the monument, the unpronounceable animal biology, or even the geological events that lead a rock to where it stands today. Docents, or interpreters, must be capable of simplifying the material in a way that is appropriate for whoever is listening, and that varies by the audience, and may include children.
Simplicity is much more than narrowing down the things you will say about a topic; that leaves too much room to continue talking in code that nobody other than you will understand. It’s breaking down the explanation, to assure your audience understands your message and that you are not making false assumptions.
There is a process to simplifying; it involves understanding the knowledge level of your audience and taking several steps back to consider alternate explanations (sometimes all used in one conversation) to help people without your experience and expertise level to also understand.
If you skip this step of simplifying and only narrow down your talking points, then you risk the possibility of having three complicated points, none of which your audience understands. If this misunderstanding happens, your presentation will not be successful regardless of how hard you try. It takes too much energy for each person to attempt to piece the information together, and even then there will be likely holes that prohibit anyone from putting the puzzle pieces together.
Presenters that don’t simplify end up giving a 10-minute answer when only two words were necessary out of concern that more information makes it better.
In the end, simplified presentations provide just enough information (but not too much) that everybody understands without feeling information bloat. The content the presenter shares is precisely enough to keep everyone on the same page and not confuse them because the knowledgeable presenter knows many of the details really don’t matter anyway.
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