Only You Can Prevent Data Smog!

Although I am an admitted information junkie I must confess that recently I’ve suffered from a bit of data overload.

Although normally I can handle it and even enjoy it, I think data is like food – best when served in reasonably-sized portions from several food groups leaving one satisfied but not stuffed.

Today it seems the amount of information is enough to choke the heartiest of eaters, even when chewed properly.

The constant spew of email, voice mail, phone calls, meetings, newspapers, magazines, memos and more is overwhelming.

While there are experts giving us lots of information on how to manage information (ironic isn’t it?), there are those who are simply rebelling by reducing and simplifying how they communicate.

For instance, Fast Company, a magazine primarily focused on business trends and forward thinking, recently published an article called the Napkin Sketch. It shows how complicated concepts are being distilled by large companies like Wal-Mart and Microsoft with the use of simple pictures.

These primitive graphics seem better able to counteract the information overload and complexity facing all of us. 

With a napkin sketch as an inspirational jumping off point, we’ve recently worked to convey a huge provincial initiative within a one page rendering. While we didn’t use stick figures like Wal-Mart and Microsoft, I must admit there’s something non-threatening and even comforting about the Fisher-Price-like little people in our drawing.

Another movement involving a presentation technique called Pecha Kucha is spreading to hundreds of cities around the world. Using Pecha Kucha (generally pronounced “pet-shak coot-sha”) people are meeting monthly to present creations and ideas using a strategy that totally rejects the idea that more is better.

What is Pecha Kucha? Pecha Kucha, the Japanese word for chit-chat, was originally devised by two architects in Tokoyo as a way for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.

The idea behind Pecha Kucha is to keep presentations concise, the interest level up, and to have many presenters share their ideas within the course of one meeting.  In other words, get to the main point quickly, concisely and creatively, and then sit the heck down.

The Pecha Kucha format allows each presenter a slide show of 20 images of their choice usually photographs, graphics, or video. The catch is that each of the images is set to automatically show for only 20 seconds resulting in a total on-stage time of 6 minutes 40 seconds for each presenter. While most presentations include an over-arching narrative to pull the work together, the speaker has no control over the advancement of the images.

When done well, Pecha Kucha presentations are fast, furious, fun, and somehow combine the best of meetings, poetry slams and performance art.

Experts recommend a number of steps for building a Pecha Kucha presentation. For that matter, they probably are steps that should be considered for any good presentation.

Begin by choosing a theme. Tell a story. Don’t just describe what’s on the screen, reveal your thought process, your mistakes and your breakthrough learnings. By being authentic, the audience is much more likely to care and relate to your topic.

Take your time. Crafting a presentation takes time. Dumping 20 images into powerpoint won’t cut it. It takes time to determine your theme, gather material, work out your script, and adjust rhythm and pace. Count on at least 6 hours of preparation spread over a few days.

Completing the slides doesn’t mean you are ready to present them. Even twenty seconds will drag for both you and the audience if you don’t know the material. Rehearse until you feel a rhythm and cadence starting to emerge.

Do a test run through with a friendly audience. Pay attention to your body language and the tone of your voice. Make sure you stand straight and relaxed and look interested.

Try to put yourself in the audience and ask yourself whether or not you would enjoy the presentation. If not, keep working at it.

While there’s no doubt that communicating the essentials in a concise and interesting manner is hard work, we all have a responsibility to do our part to reduce data overload.

After all, only you can prevent data smog. 

Posted on 06-07-08

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