K.I.S.S.’ing-off complexity

Keeping it short and simple is never stupid

by Peter Watts

This week finds me in Dubai with a balcony view of Burj Khalifa, the 163 storey spike of glass and light that is the world’s tallest building.

We erroneously associate size with status. Whatever you build, I can build bigger. The Burj might be the world’s tallest building today, but cities suffer acute architectural envy and before long it will be overtaken, becoming the world’s second tallest building.

Why do nations keep on building them bigger? Because advances in architecture mean that they can!

As architects enable more floors on towers, so PowerPoint enables more flaws in presentations:

  • The more slides the better
  • The more information the better
  • The more effects the better

We see other presenters doing flashy things and find ourselves tempted. Your colleague presents 15 slides, you present 20. You add audio, they add video. Presentation inflation sets in. The victim is clarity.

This is nothing new. A Roman orator, having tweaked a speech in order to outdo his rival was heard to admire his new prose with the words “Ah, so much the better. I can barely understand it myself!”

Message clarity is lost when it’s blurred by bling.

In Forbes magazine, the venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, describes his five second solution to this problem:

Review your presentation with a colleague. Let each slide stay up for just five seconds. If your reviewer proves unable to grasp your message in that short time, simplify the slides.

Sometimes we accidentally create the Burj Khalifa when more modest structures would prove more elegant.

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