The Simple Trick to Avoid Overwhelming Your Audience

October 26, 2015

coverYou can quickly burn out an audience by presenting too much information too quickly. To keep from overwhelming your audience, practice the art of progressive disclosure when designing your slides.

Progressive disclosure is an interaction design technique often used in human computer interaction to help maintain the focus of a user's attention by reducing clutter, confusion, and cognitive workload.

While progressive disclosure is often used in human computer interactions, it can also be utilized to improve presentations. Here are a few ways to utilize progressive disclosure in your presentations:

#1. One Idea Per Slide

Decrease the cognitive load of your presentation by presenting only one idea per slide.

You can use this style of progressive disclosure to break up big blocks of text into smaller chunks of text, thus simplifying the comprehension process for your audience. With this technique, your slide count will go up, but the likelihood of burning out your audience will go down.

As you can see in the presentation below, presenting one per slide is an effective style of communication.

#2. Tension and Discovery

In addition, you can increase the impact of your message by using progressive disclosure to create a moment of tension and discovery in your deck.

For example, you can use progressive disclosure to present a question on one slide and then reveal the answer on a separate slide.

The original slide shown below did not use progressive disclosure and thus the question and answer were presented on the same slide.

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The revised slides below utilize progressive disclosure to give the presentation an element of tension and discovery.

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As you can see in the examples above, disclosing the answer after the audience has had time to consider the question is more engaging than presenting both the question and answer on the same slide.

#3. Banish Bullets

Bullet points are scientifically proven to be an ineffective way to present information. However if you need to create slides in the bullet point style, only reveal one bullet point at a time as shown in the examples below.

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In the example above, the information is disclosed progressively as an alternative to traditional bullet points. The result is a lightened cognitive load for the audience.


Progressive disclosure is a simple technique that can dramatically improve your presentations. Use progressive disclosure to break up big blocks of text, create tension and discovery, and banish bullet points.

About the Author

Leslie Belknap is the Senior Content Strategist for Ethos3, as well as a board member and speakers’ coach for TEDxNashville. Say hi to Leslie on Twitter; she manages tweets for Ethos3.