Listen to the audio version of this post here.


You know me. Some people write about gratitude this time of year. I write about communication. Specifically, about how easy it is to go wrong when we’re speaking to attract clients or referrals, get a promotion, or land a brand new job.

In any of those situations, we want the audience to think we know our stuff. We hope they believe we’re experts they can trust. And we want them to like us too.

Sometimes we think the path to that perception is giving them a lot of information.  

We want to share our wisdom and experience freely. Our listeners need to know about this, or they wouldn’t be with us in a room or on Zoom.

And there could be an element of ego here too. It’s important that they think highly of us—the more information we give them, the more they’ll know how much we know. And the more they’ll appreciate us, right?

So, we talk quickly to get it all in, racing against the clock. We might even lose that race, so our 25-minute talk goes 33-minutes but that’s okay because there’s so much to say and it’s really, really important to say it and I’m important too and now they’ll see how brilliant I am, and they’ll be grateful for all I’ve given them …

And it backfires.

Instead of believing I’m brilliant and generous, and they need me…they wind up thinking I’m undisciplined and overwhelming.

And I’m so caught up in my own head that I don’t understand, or even notice, how they’re feeling about the onslaught of information. Preoccupied with my own good intentions, I’m not focused on my audience.

Sound familiar?

Here’s another way to think about so-much-to-say.

Imagine yourself hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Your family and friends are sitting at your beautifully decorated table. You’ve labored in the kitchen preparing for this. Then there’s the time you spent searching for recipes, selecting the perfect produce, and choosing just the right turkey.

Even before that, you developed your cooking skills. Maybe you spent hours in your mother’s kitchen. You pored over cookbooks. You watched those cooking shows on TV. You’ve invested a lot perfecting your ability to prepare this delicious dinner.

You can’t wait to share it with your guests.

You’re delighted it goes so well. The turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes couldn’t be better. The pumpkin pie? Perfect. Your guests shower you with compliments as they savor the last bite.

So, naturally, you serve them a second dinner.

They liked what they already ate, didn’t they? And there’s so much food left. And you worked hard learning how to cook. Doesn’t it make sense to keep giving them more?

Maybe they are glancing at each other, shuffling in their chairs, looking uncomfortable. If you notice at all, you’re sure those signals don’t mean a thing. You have so much delicious food for them! You’re feeling generous. You want them to think you’re a superb cook. And you want them to like you.

You get so caught up in the excitement … you might even go for Dinner Number Three.

By this time, your guests want to escape. But you’re high on the attention and the compliments and the feeling-smart-and-generous. So, you feed them more and insist that they keep eating.

Now put yourself in the guest’s chair.

That first fabulous dinner? You enjoyed every bite.

The second one, not so much.

By the third meal, you’re nauseous. It’s too much food, too fast. You don’t like being stuffed and you really don’t like having it forced on you.

It’s enough already. In fact, it’s more than enough. Whatever positive thoughts you had about your host; they’re evaporating in your discomfort. All you want now is … out of there.

Don’t overstuff your audience.

When you’re speaking (or when you’re serving Thanksgiving dinner) give them just enough.

A few questions will help you know how much information they can take in.

  • Who’s your audience? Are they familiar with the subject, or are they starting from scratch?
  • Do they already know you and like you? Or are you starting from scratch?
  • What is your objective? What will they walk away with after you speak?
  • How much time do you have? Is it a 20-minute talk or a half-day workshop?
  • Are there other speakers before or after you? How does your content fit with theirs?

A good start is to come up with three main things your listeners need to know.

Build your talk around those three points. And resist the temptation to make it four.

The best speakers keep their listeners in mind always. They tailor what they say… and how much they say … to meet the audience’s needs instead of their own.

Maybe you’ve over-served an audience? Or maybe you’ve sat there wishing some speaker would stop, for heaven’s sake.

Post a comment to share your experience. (Or your favorite Thanksgiving recipe😉 )