When everything these days feels BIG and OVERWHELMING, let’s focus on an impactful micro-concept for writers and presenters: chunking. It’s not a new technique, but one that needs embracing since now more than ever we’re consuming most everything (except all that mac n cheese) on our (small) screens. Couple this with overall memory fatigue and super short attention spans even under the best conditions, and we’ve got missed opportunities to connect.
Conveying information in the most digestible and memorable form possible always wins the day.
When seeking information, we scan our screens for specifics, skip through pages rather than reading sequentially, and look for markers that grab our attention—markers like:
- bulleted lists (see what I did just here?);
- headings and subheadings;
- image captions and simple graphics;
- short sentences, phrases, and paragraphs; and
- ample use of bold, italics, underlined, and hotlinked key words.
Slide content’s gotta be chunked, too
It’s not just web pages and extra e-Learning materials that need careful creation. We’ve all sat on seemingly endless Zoom calls over the past 8+ months, and unfortunately been held hostage by suboptimal slide decks.
One commonality I’ve noticed is that people tend to plop giant paragraphs of text on their slides, and then read them to us verbatim. Slides often appear in different formats, too, which adds to confusion and disengagement. Stop doing this. Please. Our brains don’t process large chunks of text, and actually scramble to make sense of what we’re seeing while you’re reading. This adds to fatigue and disinterest, and then nothing you wish your audience to engage with will be acted upon. Opportunity lost.
Help your audience find what we seek by:
- presenting material simply and consistently—from page to page, slide to slide—so we can use our brain muscle memories to focus on content and action rather than the presentation;
- talking through visually presented content using simple, vivid words and phrases that help reinforce ideas and;
- limiting bullet points and directions to no more than 7. Fun fact: short, odd numbered lists are more easily remembered, so stick to 3 or 5, ideally.
Action promotes learning
It’s important to lead your audience through key concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand; it’s equally as important to ensure a practical application of new concepts if you want us to understand and remember (especially if you want us to change habits). We remember by doing. Make sure each phrase or bullet point directs us to using content you’ve just presented in a real-world way.
Practice right now!
- Find content from a web page or slide that you recently created.
- Rewrite that content in short, simple phrases or bullet points.
- Use action verbs for each point that direct your reader into doing something with the content you’ve offered.
- Ask someone to read and give feedback on the actionability of your new and improved phrasing.