Overwhelm stifles your message

avoid overwhelm

by Elizabeth Toohig
in Blog
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Rucksack or day pack?

Have you ever listened to a talk and felt totally overwhelmed? Many speakers I listen to and work with fall into the trap of sharing too much, or being too complex and abstract. Consequently, their listeners feel overwhelmed and confused. I like to think of a talk as a piece of luggage; these speakers want to give their audience the whole rucksack of knowledge, when in fact the audience can only carry the day pack, or maybe even just one essential item from that.

This article explores thee ways to avoid  ‘audience overwhelm’.


When I work on speech structure with my clients, they often feel that they MUST tell the audience about EVERYTHING they know on the subject. Not doing this leaves them with a sense of guilt. They feel they are short changing the audience. However, the opposite is true. Giving too much information overloads the audience. There is just not enough time to process everything – the audience suffers from ‘overwhelm’. Furthermore, it can cause the audience to leave with a sense that the talk was beyond them. The speaker’s key message gets lost.

Less content, more impact

As a speaker, you are doing a kindness to your listeners when you focus on one clear message. You still need to let your audience know that you have lots more information you can share with them, just not in this talk. Often, a speaker who comes to me for coaching on a talk they are preparing to give (sometimes ones who are suffering from overwhelm!) leaves with three talks from the same amount of material.

“How much material can I fit in?” This is a question I am asked all the time. To avoid ‘overwhelm’, this is the simple formula I recommend:

5  minutes for introduction

5 minutes for conclusion

10 minutes for each point

For a total talk length of 30 minutes = 2 main points

40 – 45 minutes = 3 main points

1 hour = 4  or 5 points,  or 4 points and a Q & A

In general, remember:

  • use less content
  • go deeper, not broader

KISS (Keep It Super Simple)

KISS your talk to avoid overwhelm. An audience wants to enjoy themselves, not to work hard. You are the expert on your content; to you, it is simple and straightforward. It has probably basically become part of your DNA! However, your audience is hearing it for the first time. Consider, for each of your main points: how would you want the audience to paraphrase it when they share it with someone who wasn’t there? If you can do this in one short phrase or sentence, you pass the KISS test! Once you have done this, you can then use this phrase or sentence to summarise your point. If this activity is a bit of a challenge, then listen out for feedback from audience members when they speak to you after the event. What language are they using? You can then build that in the next time you give the talk.

Remember, most of the time in life, you don’t need to completely understand something; you just need to ‘get it’. I don’t understand all the complexities of how the internet works. However, I do ‘get it’, and can therefore use it. As you develop your content, ask yourself, “how much does the audience actually NEED to know?”

Greater complexity does not mean greater credibility. You will develop your credibility through how accessible you make the information for the audience, and the audience will thank you for your simplicity. Using simple and accessible language will boost their confidence, especially if they leave understanding something they thought was beyond their reach.


  • one clear anchor for each point
  • summarise each point in one phrase
  • use clear, simple language

Be specific

Most audiences expect to be entertained, not given a theoretical lecture. To achieve this, you need to take the theory, or ‘dry’ information about your subject, and pass it through the lens of your life experiences. The result is what the audience wants to hear. The audience needs to see how what you are sharing is relevant to their lives today.

Giving details about things – size, position, time, appearance and weight of objects, people and places – in your anecdotes and examples has a number of benefits. Firstly, it involves the audience. You are giving them tangible information to work with. It is much easier to visualise and comprehend an event that happened “in the summer I was six,” rather than “when I was a child.” Secondly, it allows the audience to create a visual picture. When we create a visual picture, our ability to remember and recall the information associated with that image is greatly increased. Finally, it gives you credibility. It is easy to be vague, but to recall exact details shows the importance, value and impact of the event.

Break through the overwhelm

Developing a mindset that empowers you to share just one piece of your content in each talk you give will stop you feeling overwhelmed as you prepare you talk, and will allow your message to shine through. By having less content, keeping it super simple and being specific and detailed, your audience will thank you for not overwhelming them!

Click here for further details and to book a place on my Speech Structure workshop on Thursday 11 May in Taunton. Please share the details and link on social media  https://minitreat1.eventbrite.co.uk


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