Less is More

The facilitator finished the session and I looked down at my notebook. There were about three sentences – one was a book title that he had recommended. It was one of the best sessions I have ever been to. . . and I still remember what I learned that day.

And yet I recall NOTHING of another training session I attended, where I took no less than 9 pages of notes.

Dr Rich Allen talks about giving your audience moments to reflect on the information – forming discussion groups or talking about various points in pairs. This cements the learning, gives your listeners a chance to think about direct application of information to THEIR situation and verbalise their understanding of it.

One of the biggest flaws we have as speakers or trainers is generosity. Yup, it’s a flaw. We are so keen to give extra value, to make it worth their while, to show how much we have to offer – that we deny our participants or our audience the time to reflect on the material.

Here’s the paradox – the more we give, the less they take away. When you dish out every bit of information you have on a topic, you are taking away the opportunity to reflect on it and thereby removing any chance of recall.

The session I referred to at the beginning was a Conflict Resolution seminar. Every point the facilitator made, there was a case study, an exercise, a discussion session and question time. We had ample opportunity to grapple with, explore, internalise and understand the material. I didn’t take many notes, but I felt I really understood the points by the end of the session and consequently have no need to refer to notes. On the other hand, the session where I wrote until I got hand-cramp… I don’t recall anything and would need to dig out the notes and trawl through them to see if there’s anything meaningful there.

It’s easy to forget the value of participation when we are so keen to impart information. People like to talk, to explore ideas and are much more likely to take on the learning if they’ve been led to that point through questions and discussions, than if you throw it all at them. Craig Valentine explains that “If they say it, they believe it and adopt it more quickly.” A skilled facilitator, trainer or speaker has the challenge of setting up scenarios or an environment where the participants “discover” the information and internalise it.

Putting a presentation together? Here are some age-old axioms to guide you:

  1. KISS (Keep it simple, stupid)
  2. Less is always more
  3. Three is a magic number (three points explained, demonstrated, discussed in detail).

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