Today's news is delivered with a fractured focus that can completely distract the viewer. A talking head remains the center of any TV newscast, and he or she usually has a still image over one shoulder to provide a visual clue to the story.
But that simple set up has erupted into a veritable three ring circus, all designed to stop us from changing the channel.
- A line of text (or sometimes more than one) scrolls across the bottom to offer information on other stories, scores, or stock markets.
- A bullet list of the next few stories hovers to one side, just in case the current "breaking news" is not of interest to us.
- A headline and pithy sub-headline offer context to the story if we happen to have the sound muted.
- A single frame of news footage could be studied for an hour - yet the a new visual assault appears mere seconds later.
They do this because, sadly, it works. Like a car wreck on the highway, we are unable to look away. We, the viewers, have taught them that the only way to hold our attention is to bombard our senses with information. And it might hold our attention, or at least pause our remote controls, but attention is not comprehension or engagement. This approach washes over our senses; it doesn't draw us in. The next time you are watching the news, try to notice if you are spending more attention listening or reading the screen. Does the presenter become an annoying hum in the background? Do you find yourself turning down the sound to "read the TV" like you would a website?
Go back fifty years and you'd see a presenter, almost always a man, sitting at a desk, holding papers, filling the lens with nothing more than his own gravitas. And telling the story of the news. Now you may argue with only 3 channels, they didn't have to worry about keeping eyeballs glued their broadcast. Yet, if you watch the news from, say, the BBC, you'll see a very simple set-up, more in depth discussions of current events, and you will probably find the stories suck you in.
How does this apply to sales artifacts? Let's look specifically at presentations. I would argue that the slides should augment your message, not replace it. Think of the images-over-the-shoulder on a newscast. The images - a fire, a politician, a police car - do not tell you the story, but they offer context. They support the spoken story. A good slide does that, too.
You can take the other option - fill the slide with everything you plan to say, plus background information, plus graphics and charts, plus conclusions. You can choose to make your slide the star of your presentation, and many do. But is that what you want?
An audience can either read or listen - we literally cannot do both at once. We might switch between them very quickly, but one sense must "grab the controls." Overfill your slides and you are asking the audience to stop listening.
Your slides are not your presentation; you are the presentation. The slides should complement your spoken word: offering clarity on complex issues, providing reinforcement for the visual-learners in the group (many people have to *see* something to understand it), and sketching the arc of your story. Remember that Walter Cronkite and his peers could hold a nation's attention with a desk and a stack of notes.
Start from the story, not the slides.