The War on Detail

Details matter in business, and in some industries, the details are everything. But the amount of detail we discuss in meetings and presentations, and the way in which we communicate it, is a daily source of frustration in most companies.

Ask yourself this question: “What percentage of meetings that you participate in cover way more detail than you needed or wanted?” If you are like most of our clients, the answer to that question is some version of “way too many.”

Now ask yourself this question: “How often do people feel that way about MY meetings?” Be honest. I thought so…

Let’s dig into why our relationship with detail is so complicated. Twenty years ago, information was much harder to accumulate, store and access than it is today. Think about how much has changed in the last twenty years, especially in the ways we consume content. Twenty years ago, very few people had home wireless, Netflix’s business model still included mailing DVDs to people, there were no smart phones or social media, no one knew what “streaming content” was, your basic cable package had less than 1000 channels… our entire relationship with content in general was very different. We wanted a lot more of it.

And in the business setting, twenty years ago, the most valuable person in most meetings was the person who could provide and dig into the details.

But that was twenty years ago.

Today, our relationship with content in general, and business details in particular, is much more complicated. We know it matters, but the vast majority of people suffer from a constant and daily state of “content overwhelm.” The biggest business problem today is not access to sufficient detail. The biggest and most common business problem today is what to do with all the information that is flowing at us. How to use it, translate it, act on it. Simplify it.

Today, the most valuable person in most meetings is not the person with all the details. The most valuable person today is the person who can explain, translate, simplify and make sense of all the information at our fingertips. The translator is the person with competitive advantage. The guy with all the details almost always works for the translator.

Now let’s go back to the meetings you lead, and the decisions you need to make about “how much detail to include.” Twenty years ago, you covered your bases by including lots of details, in an effort to make yourself look prepared. But today, that actually can make you look like you did less, like you just threw some things together, to try to cover your own you-know-what. It makes you look like you couldn’t make a choice, and that you tried to cover your lack of preparation by throwing a more-is-better quick fix at the problem. Preparation today is about showing that you have curated the details, determined what is most valuable, simplified your message, and are ready to go deeper into detail if asked.

In the lean business world of 2021, preparation for your meetings, presentations, virtual meetings, and conference calls is mission critical. No one likes having their time wasted. You need to walk into the room ready to get to the point in a valuable way. And you need to include enough detail to satisfy the expectations and facilitate discussion, but not so much that everyone is looking at their watches. In other words, details still matter. People want to know that you are on top of the situation. But if they trust you (another topic entirely, I will admit), then most of the time your audience will be appreciate your efforts to simplify things for them.

The trick is to be ready to go deep into detail via the audience’s questions, but not assume they want it all in your main message. In other words, your main slide decks should be getting shorter, and your backup slides for Q&A should be getting longer. You have to be ready to go deep, but allow the audience to take you there.

Be the one who can translate and simplify. Details still matter. But hold them in reserve, to be used if necessary. Think about, and know your audience, and start realizing that the implications for our 21st century fast-paced, information-intensive business world are significant. We must change accordingly.

Have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.