In the last two years 90% of the world’s data was born.¹ Information overload has morphed into infobesity and information pollution. Dealing with this glut has become so stressful, that unplugging is the new vogue for vacations. We are all time starved. And yet, we still produce more content. Chatting, Instagramming, preparing a presentation, Liking and IM’ing. We all add to the noise. Humans have used technology to adapt to new forms of information production. But we’re not adapting well to consuming and sorting all that extra information. We haven’t grown extra grey cells to store, sort and interpret all that extra information.
That feeling you have of not quite being able to catch up? You’re not alone. So here’s the $64,000 question for the 21st century:
How can you produce content that adds to the conversation, not the noise?
Look around at the content you pay attention to. It’s likely shorter, more visual, interactive and speaks to you. So what do you need to do?
Work on your information hierarchy.
“Chunking” is how psychologists describe your brain sequencing and remembering information. It’s why your phone number is in chunks (555-876-5309) or you might group a project plan into phases or stages. Assume that whoever reads your stuff is going to remember three things. To respect your audience’s time, go beyond chunking. Build an information hierarchy. That next big presentation that’s an hour long? Assume the audience will only remember three points: the really important stuff you want to get across, what’s useful to know, and how those dots connect. Building an information hierarchy is you knowing what’s really important. “Nice-to-know” doesn’t make the list.
Here’s your problem. You know too much and you’re too passionate about it. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not. It creates a tremendous gap between you and your audience in both knowledge and passion for your subject. Since your job in creating content or a presentation is to bridge that gap, you don’t want to make it too wide. That means edit. Use the information hierarchy you have developed to prune your content.
It should be scannable.
Video is one of the fastest growing content segments. In the US, almost 80% of us watch video online.² But video isn’t the answer to your content woes. The drop-off rate is high. Studies show that we don’t have the patience to wait for content. The problem with video, (and long form writing like books and white papers) is that it’s linear. You can’t do what the Internet has taught you to do — scan. Build your content so that it’s scannable.
For example, you have an online tutorial about how to setup your new Widget. If you are stuck at step five of a six step widget set up process, waiting for the video to buffer, the steps you’ve already figured out is intolerable. Better forms of content are scannable. Infographics with links and pointers are absorbed at a glance, so the user can focus in on what they need. Blog posts with sub-heads allow people to scan and skip, to get to the piece they’re interested in. Keep your video under two minutes. Make your information hierarchy visible and use good visuals and sub headings to make the content scannable.
Allow for time shifting.
Information has a half life. You want to think about that when you’re creating content. Does it make sense to news-jack an example of current events? How long will that example remain relevant? You have to play off the balance between notoriety and long-term relevance.
Make it for me (for real humans).
This is an easy one — although it’s a rule we all break. We use terms of art and big words to show how smart we are. We think we’re saving time by using acronyms. We’re not. Remember that gap you have to manage between what you know and the audience? Acronyms make it bigger.
¹ “Big Data, for Better or Worse: 90% of World’s Data Generated over Last Two Years.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
² “Online Videos: User Penetration in Selected Countries 2014 | Statistic.”
Statista. N.p., June 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.