Imagine that you’re carefully explaining something — to your boss, or a client, or a colleague, or someone who reports to you — and their eyes start to glaze over.
This can be a sign that they’re getting too much information.
None of us wants to bore our listeners, so here’s how to avoid over-explaining.
Use the Instant Speech Format to Organize Your Information
An Instant Speech is short, sweet, and elegant:
You start with a high-level overview statement (your “key message”) that identifies the topic and gives your opinion about it. For example,
This project is going well, but we need more time to finish it.
Notice that, even if you only get to say this one thing (and that happens, often), you’ve already made your most important point!
Next, you add one, two, or three short statements that support your main idea (“supporting points”):
The print process is taking a lot longer than we thought it would. The client has made a lot of changes to the scope of work. And our chief designer is out sick, which is also slowing things down.
Then you close by repeating your most important point, to make sure the listener has taken it in:
So in general, the project is going well, but we really need more time to finish it.
(The “too much information” version of this report — at least, for me! — would be a detailed description of all the technical factors that make the printing process slower than expected. If I want to know that, I can ask.)
Watch Your Listener’s Reaction, and Stop Before They Hit TMI/Too Much Information
The Instant Speech format has just solved three important problems for you: Where to begin, how to end, and how much to say in the middle.
But the real judge of what’s “too much information” is your listener. Ideally, you should stop talking before they hit overload.
1. Watch your listener for telltale signs like a definitive nod (“OK, I’ve got that”) or a shift in their attention (wandering eyes, fidgeting, an impatient expression, etc.).
2. When you see those signs. stop talking at the end of your current point, even if you believe there’s a lot more to explain.
Pausing in this way gives your listener a chance to:
- React to what you’ve just said,
- Jump in with a follow-up question,
- Introduce a different topic, or
- Ask you to continue explaining.
How Do You “Watch” Your Listener on a Call?
But what if your listener isn’t expressive, or you’re on the phone and can’t read their cues? How do you know they’re getting “too much information”?
In this case, ask your listener(s) if they’ve heard enough. Just pause and then say something like,
Would you like me to continue?
Do you want more detail?
Shall we move on to the next topic?
These questions aren’t rude — they show confidence, and consideration for your listeners.
So remember: Identify your main point (and deliver it first), keep your supporting statements brief, and watch your listeners to make sure they’re still paying attention.
When you do these things, “too much information” won’t be a problem!