Information Overload is real—but you can hack it

Do you worry about information overload? You have good reason to. A 2012 McKinsey report estimated the average American reads or hears upwards of 100,000 words daily. Someone needs to invent a FitBit to track our eye movements.

Many of those words, no doubt, lurk in our emails. In 2014, business sent nearly 109 billion emails each day; by 2018, researchers expect that number to grow to nearly 140 billion. Actually, the report says “over 108.7 billion emails sent and received per day,” which count the same email twice—once when it’s sent and once when it’s received. But even if we cut the estimate in half, 54 billion is still a pretty alarming number!

And meetings—we can’t forget meetings. The average floating around is 31 hours per employee per month, but connect this “depressing website” to your calendar to see how well your schedule compares.

And that’s not counting all of the information that bombards us when we’re not at work. (You do spend time not working—and awake? Don’t you?)

And here you come with your speech or op-ed or whatever it is you need to communicate. How do you cut through the glut of information?

My regular readers should know what’s coming: One word, five letters:

S _ _ _ _

Facts slide out of your listeners’ brains as fast as you can pour them in. But stories stick.

Stories: the ultimate Information Overload hack

I was listening to a podcast interview of Andrew Warner, who is himself a prolific interviewer of interesting people. The host, Chris Winfield, asked Warner, “Do you ever worry about information overload?” Warner reminded him of a story he’d told earlier in the interview—of how Barack Obama started the 2008 presidential campaign with no one following him but a press photographer and went on to…well, you know. Warner said,

I didn’t take notes about that [story]; you didn’t take notes about that; our listener didn’t take notes about that. I bet you that they remember that and they remember the point of it and that it sticks in their heads.

So when Warner interviews people, he asks not for facts or lessons—but for stories:

Because if we tell a story with a compelling, useful point to it, my audience won’t have to worry about information overload. They won’t have to take notes. The story will be embedded in their heads….That’s how you deal with information overload: You look for stories that actually are meaningful, that are compelling and have a point that’s worth remembering.

If those aren’t the kinds of stories you’re telling, then why even bother to talk? If your written communications don’t tell those kinds of stories, then why do you expect anyone to read them?

  • storytelling