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September 2023
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TMS Syndrome

Tighten your presentation by avoiding Too Much Stuff or repetitive content.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Click play to hear additional tips from author Bill Brown, DTM.

I don’t know about you, but the last several months have been anything but routine.

Routine is nice. It enables you to get into a rhythm and work on your various projects, which, for me, include writing magazine articles. But sometimes it is good to get shaken out of your routine, to look at normal details differently, and to have new experiences that remind you of what’s important—and in my case, that also relate to lessons in public speaking.

Last summer, my wife and I decided to move from the desert of southern Nevada to the high plains of Wyoming—a distance of 950 miles. When we had made previous moves to new locations, the distances were close enough that we could make multiple trips with our belongings, spreading out the moving drudgery over time. This was more of a “bite the bullet and do it all at once” move. And so the packing began.

A serious problem quickly presented itself. We had a big house in Las Vegas, which meant that we had lots of room to store all sorts of “I might need it someday” items. For example, we had three full sets of china dinnerware, plus enough goblets for a small army. There was no pressure to downsize. As we packed for our move, we discovered that we had TMS Syndrome—Too Much Stuff.

That is when it struck me. I have seen far too many speeches suffer from the same problem.

In Toastmasters, you fit many of your speeches into that famous five- to seven-minute window, so that you can learn to write to a time limit. Outside of Toastmasters, it is not unusual for the speaking window to be between 45 and 60 minutes.

Unfortunately, with so much “extra room” to fill in those larger windows, speakers frequently do not feel the pressure to edit. After all, “I filled the 45 minutes and didn’t go over. What’s the problem?”

If you have to cut material because it doesn’t move your message forward, do it.

The problem is that, while you may not see that you have crammed too much information into your presentation, your audience members see it clearly. This may result in listeners losing interest in your information. Especially if it is difficult to follow.

I learned a second lesson after we had been in our new home for about six weeks. I contracted COVID-19. Fortunately, I didn’t have a bad case. My experience was primarily a mild fever with resultant fatigue. The real problem for me was that it just didn’t want to end. Ten days after testing positive, I still had a low-level temperature, and I was always tired. Trust me, that got old. I was ready for it to end.

That, again, reminded me of certain speeches I have heard. While “Too Much Stuff” speeches tend to include far too much information, these other speeches are different. Here, the speaker repeats the same point multiple times, sometimes using the exact same words. Why do they do this? I suspect they just don’t have enough material to fill the time slot. Both of these problems center on the time limit, rather than on effective communication.

If you have a point to make, make it, and then get off the stage. I’m not sure that I have ever heard anyone say, “Wow, what an impactful message. It has changed my life. But she finished 10 minutes early, so what a waste.”

The key is to focus on a strong message. If you have to cut material because it doesn’t move your message forward, do it. If you feel compelled to add “bonus material” because you were given 45 minutes to talk, don’t do it. End early and put that bonus material in a handout.

Effective communication takes effort. Sometimes there is a temptation to include too much content. Sometimes there is a temptation to repeat the same points to cover up the fact that you don’t have enough content. Both of those problems can be fatal to your message. Avoid them like the plague.

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