Communicate with “bite-size” pieces of information

Our working memory can only process a small amount of information at a time. If we need someone to understand us, then we need to break down concepts, into easily digestible bits that will fit through the small-holed funnel that allows new information into our brain. If the receiver of the information is already familiar with the subject we are trying to explain, then they will be able to tap into their long-term memory to help them decipher what we are saying. Anything new, however, still has to go through that very small processor, called short-term memory. That’s why it’s important to selectively choose what we say, and prioritize the key concepts, over all that we could, or want to say. Focus on the quality of information over the quantity, and ensure it’s suitable for the listener’s level of understanding. Note how a ‘Ted Talk’ is only 18 minutes, purposefully kept short since the concept being explained is new to the audience. If it were longer, listeners would lose attention, and the message would be received in a fragmented way, instead of fully understood. Plus, associating the information with something that is already in the listener’s long-term memory will help, such as using a metaphor or an analogy. The long-term connection will act like a magnet and pull the new information through that processor funnel.

Take action: If explaining something new to someone, try breaking down the topic into chunks of information and only delivering what they need to know for the immediate future. You can always return to the subject once the first part has sunk into their long-term memory and they are ready to start processing again.

Inspired by Cliff Atkinson’s book, Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire.

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