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Less Is More — Remember KISS ... Keep It Simple, Silly!
by Chris King

Recently I attended a disappointing presentation by a woman who is widely acclaimed. She has reached a high level of management in a well-known technology company and was going to tell us the ins and outs of “getting there.”

The disappointment occurred because even though she was obviously knowledgeable and accomplished, rather than basically telling us her story, she got carried away with all of the bells and whistles of PowerPoint, tried to pack in much too much material, and, because she started to run out of time, rushed to read the slides to us. In this article, I am going to highlight the areas in our speaking career where we can apply the old acronym, KISS ... Keep It Simple, Silly!

Plan ahead to use the power of threes in your presentation. I have mentioned this before, but it fits the keep-it-simple-silly theory perfectly. When we plan a presentation it will flow more easily for us and also be more memorable for the audience if we plan it around three major points. I am not saying that we should skimp on important information, I am just suggesting that if we limit ourselves to the magic of threes, we will be able to keep on track and have the time to examine those three in depth.

The woman I referred to in the opening paragraph had great information to share with us, but by trying to tell us everything she knew, her information overloaded us, her presentation, and her slides. Rather than remembering what she had to share, we went home frustrated. Less would have been so much more memorable than the more she bombarded us with.

Beware the bells and whistles. When planning a presentation, we are tempted to make use of all of the great extras that accompany the computer program of our choice. Think back to the last presentation you attended where the speaker used PowerPoint, for example. It is an incredible program and has banished the awkwardness of using overheads forever, but if we don’t keep-it-simple-silly, we can destroy the effectiveness of our presentation completely.

What do I mean? The backgrounds are striking, but often fight with the words — and most have been seen before ad nauseam. The animations are distracting and take the eyes of audience members away from you and the words you want them to remember. The color choices can overwhelm and/or fight with our messages. Many speakers overload the slides with too many words spelled out with fonts that are sized too small for easy reading, and then proceed to read the slides to you.

Ask yourself how you can simplify, simplify, simplify. Make Less Is More your mantra. Clean looking, strikingly straightforward and simplified slides will delight your audience with their uniqueness. If you are going to use graphics — which add to the impact to the visual effect — pick them with care (not too many to a slide. Better to have one large, knock-em-dead graphic.), and place them toward the bottom of the slides with the words toward the top, so those toward the back of the room can read the text, even if they can’t see the whole graphic.

Be aware of the fine line between enthusiasm and gushiness and/or overacting. It is crucial that a presenter be enthusiastic about his/her topic, or the audience can be brought to boredom quickly. But some presenters, who have been told to add drama to their speaking, tend to overdo gestures, vocal variety, and movement in an unnatural way. It is walking a fine line to apply the keep-it-simple-silly theory here. A speaker who doesn’t vary pitch, tone and speed can produce those ZZZ’s that Tom Antion writes about.

Yet, the speaker who tries to wow us by imitating someone who has a distinctive, ebullient style, like Zig Ziglar’s dynamism, can only tend to annoy us, because it is obviously not natural to his or her personality. Ask yourself if you are trying to act a part rather than speaking from your heart. Today’s audiences are too sophisticated to fall for theatrics. Remember, Less Is More. In this case it is less phoniness that is more effective.

Apply KISS to all aspects of the image you portray. When I speak about “image” I am talking about the way you dress, the way you market yourself, the way you answer the phone, your e-mails, your faxes, your notes, letters, memos, and every “moment of truth” your share with others. Again, by using fewer distracting and extra, unnecessary elements when planning our image, we will leave a striking impression on those we come in contact with.

It is OK for men to wear a loud tie, but then keep the rest of the outfit conservative, unless you are a humorous speaker, and then you can be outlandish with everything, like a friend of mine is, as long as it doesn’t become distracting. Women shouldn’t overdo makeup and perfume — yet use enough makeup when up on a stage to enhance the eyes.

Phone messages, whether on your answering machine or left on another’s voice mail, should be clear and to the point (less is definitely more here).

All marketing materials will be more professional looking if you keep them classy and simple in design. I love all of the papers with patterns and background images, and do use them for my personal letters to family. But, be careful about using these — again, they are the bells and whistles and most of us know exactly where they come from and have seen them before. Note: If you are designing or having someone design a website for you, apply everything you have read in this article to keeping your site simple and clean in concept. Beware the garish templates that we have all experienced over and over again.

Start noticing the difference between less and too much, and send me some FEEDBACK. I would enjoy hearing about your experiences.

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