Imagine sitting at your desk at 4 p.m. on a Friday after a long, exhausting week. You’re getting ready to pack up when you receive an urgent email from your boss begging you to “figure it out” immediately. When you open the email, you see a wall of text: a lengthy, meandering paragraph with too many details and no obvious direction.
This is how it may feel when you dump raw data on already-overwhelmed colleagues, or bury overworked clients in information so complex, disorganized or abstract that they just. don’t. care.
But, as researchers and communication experts, it’s our job to filter out unnecessary information for our clients (or customers) — to make their lives easier. That means we need to analyze, contextualize, prioritize — and, above all, simplify information.
Take a tip — or eight — from behavioral economists to reduce information overload and communicate to your audiences more effectively:
Without credibility (and trust), it doesn’t matter how well you present information. Stakeholders won’t buy your ideas if they’re questioning you and your judgment.
Establish credibility through case studies, testimonials and examples, subject matter expertise, proven results, industry experience and endorsements.
Every detail may matter to you, but exhaustive detail is, well, exhausting to others. Lack of direction and too many details make your audience feel lost, overwhelmed or even bored.
Think of yourself as a tour guide. It’s your responsibility to create a smooth journey — with memorable milestones. Start by plotting out the beginning, middle and end. Then, add details for flavor.
As a researcher, it is easy for me to nerd-out and get highly technical. I can be five minutes into an explanation before I realize people are zoning out and slowly backing away. One way to connect is to use examples that everyone can relate to. If your topic is technical, run your ‘relatable example’ by a coworker from another department before presenting it to a client.
Studies have shown that processing a large amount of information takes energy – the more information, the more energy it takes.
Think about going to a bookstore and selecting a random book from the bargain bin — based solely on the synopsis. Overwhelming, right? Now, go to the same bookstore’s genre section, which also includes recommendations. Which is easier?
Start with simple, overarching themes and concepts, then build out with more detailed or complex content.
Categories are one way to start simple and add complexity. Our brains can easily process more information when it’s organized into categories, rather than having to compare each individual piece of information. That’s why listicles and slideshows are so popular. Categories allow us to easily digest and compare information, as well as skip what doesn’t apply.
Just make sure the categories are clear — to you and others.
How many times have you actually read the dense wall of text on a slide or Facebook post?
Studies show that simplifying and organizing the visual appearance of your communication can significantly improve readership and comprehension. Consider using white space, aligning text and graphical elements, using good design composition and breaking up heavy chunks of text into shorter paragraphs (or cutting word count).
Writers are often told: “show, don’t tell.” That’s where images, videos, graphs and data visualization come in. Sometimes a well-placed infographic can drive home your point best.
As the author, it’s up to you to make your audience care about your content. Tie it all back to the client’s original problem, need or pain point because they want more than content, they want your expert insights. By providing implications of information — and actionable next steps — you can link your insights to their future. And that makes your message matter.
Madeline Spiker is a project coordinator for SMS Research Advisors, a division of Padilla.