Avoiding Information Overload

October 26, 2015

Share this post

Avoiding Information Overload
We all suffer from information overload at some point. I personally am always trying to handle too many tasks at once (ye ye men can’t multi-task) and I could probably delegate a few more tasks out than I do. Like many other people, I regularly reach my cognitive load which is the limit on the amount of information I can process at one time.
She won’t believe me but this is the reason why my wife gets so frustrated at me for never doing the tasks she asks of me after returning home form a long day in the office. Feel free to use that one yourself guys 😉
Now this blog isn’t intended to get me off the hook with the wife, but more importantly it is to help presenters realise that your audience members all have a limit to how much they can process. The tips below will help you understand what you can do to help them really focus and remember your presentation.

Cognitive Load Theory

There are three elements to Cognitive Load:

  1. Intrinsic Load This is intrinsically linked to whatever you are trying to focus on. For example a presentation about rocket science will have a higher intrinsic load than a presentation about how to cook a fried egg (I’m sure someone out there has presented on that before!)
  2. Extraneous Load – This is the additional load you give your audience as a result of how you explain things. Bad explanations have a high load, and good explanations have a much lower load
  3. Germane Load – This is the part that helps you to remember patterns and skills. If we can help people use more Germane load than anything else they should learn a lot form our presentation

We can’t easily change the intrinsic load because different subjects will require a higher or lower amount, but what we can do is help lower the extraneous load which can free up some space in our audiences minds.

Lightening the load

Now obviously one way we can help lighten the load is by having a great presentation, and by that I mean:

  • The visuals are really simple and easy to understand
  • The slides aren’t crowded with bullet points
  • The way they are delivered is crystal clear
  • The presenter stays focused on each point

There is obviously a lot more to the above points but just to be clear, if we want to lighten the cognitive load on our audience then we first need to have a great presentation and be a great presenter.
To lighten the Extraneous Load even more we as presenters should always take into account the physical and physiological elements going on in our audiences minds.
Have you ever been sat in a presentation thinking ‘Is this guy going to turn the heating up? and I wonder when we’ll have a coffee break?’. Then you realise you just missed 3 slides and the presenters explanation of those points, oops I hope there’s no quiz!
Well those things can easily be avoided by using some of the following tips:

  • Get to your presentation early:
    • Check out the temperature, not too hot and not too cold
    • Is there any outside noise that could be blocked out?
    • Load your presentation and sit at the back of the room, can you read it from there?
    • Make sure you know where the toilets and fire exits are and tell your audience when they arrive
  • Tell people at the start:
    • If there will be handouts
    • How they can ask questions
    • If they are comfortable
    • Where all the exits are
    • What time you will have breaks and when this will be finished

It’s not just about slides!

A key take away from this is that there is a lot more to think about than just what to put on your slides. If you want your presentation to be a success then you need to take into account that everyones brain has it’s limits, and there is an awful lot going on in your audiences heads that we can’t see.
If you can pre-empt some of the external factors which use up valuable cognitive load and then deliver a fantastic presentation, chances are you are going to be remembered.
And being remembered should be the goal of every presentation!

Presentations that can’t be ignored

If you are looking for a presentation that has to be remembered then get in touch below with our design team on [email protected]

More blogs