As we recently discussed, the fear of public speaking often undermines a speaker's effectiveness. Forbes.com columnist Carmine Gallo reminds us that effective communication is an important component of innovation, too - and that complexity is not its friend.
In The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Gallo tells a story about the U.S. military's use of PowerPoint, recalling a front-page headline from the New York Times on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010.
"We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint," the title read. The article recounted an anecdote about General Stanley McChrystal, who at the time was the leader of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"McChrystal had been shown a PowerPoint slide about military strategy in the region," explains Gallo.
"The slide had more than four hundred words and looked remarkably like a bowl of spaghetti.
"McChrystal said that if he could understand the slide, America would win the war.
"It was meant as a joke, but some military leaders did not find anything funny about the PowerPoint problem. Some banned PowerPoint because they thought it was dangerous, literally stifling discussion and hampering critical thinking."
Of course, as Gallo points out, PowerPoint was not the problem. Any military operation is highly complex, with millions of moving parts, personnel, and equipment; "The secret is to hide the complexity so your audience - Apple's customers, the military's soldiers - can quickly and simply understand what it is they need to focus on.
"Complexity stifles communication, understanding, and innovation."
Audiences are notoriously fickle. Their attention is difficult to capture and harder to retain. Knowing what to leave out - what detracts from the basic message - is just as important as knowing what to put in.
Ultimately, communication is an art form. It is often a function of personal style, and its effectiveness can - but need not be - closely tied to the personal experiences, credibility, talent, and effort of the communicator.
Speeches and presentations both qualify as art; not only in the props and slides used, but in that the persona, attitude, values, and language of the presenter can have a profound impact on the style of delivery and, ultimately, on the effectiveness of the message.
Gallo quotes Jim Collins (author of the bestseller Good to Great): "A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally importantly, what is not."