The firestorm that erupted over Missouri Representative Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” has run the gamut from calls for him to step out of the senatorial race to new supporters donating to his campaign. It’s hard to swing a Fendi purse without knocking over a pundit with an opinion on Akin’s future in politics.

Yesterday I saw the best analysis of Akin’s situation, and it was one sentence long.  It was from Nate Silver of the New York Times (and 538) who asked, “Is it possible to win a Senate race with 0% of the women’s vote?” Talk about getting to the core of an issue. This got me wondering why public speakers can’t do this more often.  Why is it so hard to narrow down our core message?

Most presentations falter as a result of trying to share too much information. I honestly don’t know which is worse: too much information in too little time or too much information in too long a time frame.  I think we can agree that both scenarios are deadly.

One of my clients explained why it was so hard for him to narrow his focus. He said that every time he shared his presentation script with a team member they had something important to add. By the time I began working with him, the presentation deck had grown from 25 to 75 slides.  As he put it, “Now my presentation looks like a Christmas tree, with an ornament donated by every person in the company.”  I pushed back and said, “But you are the one who will be front and center. Do you really think this presentation will have the impact you are hoping for?”

If you are struggling with the content, flow, or timing of an upcoming presentation, chances are that you have not narrowed your focus enough.  Have a colleague or friend start a timer with 11 seconds on the clock. When they give you the wave, try to sum up your presentation before they say stop. Keep trying until you can say it clearly and concisely and your friend says, “I get it now. It makes sense now.”

As you head to your presentation, you can feel good about the fact that you left the Christmas tree version in the recycle bin.

– Barbara