No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Free Thinking: Less is more


Martin Shovel of CreativityWorks offers tips on how to turn a golden rule for effective communication - 'less is more' - into a practical reality.

Here's a familiar situation: You've got something to say - it might be a teaching point, or something you want to share with your team, or perhaps it’s a marketing message. What you've got to say is very interesting and important. You're determined to give your audience their money's worth, which means there's always a temptation to say too much just in case you miss out some vital piece of information.

As you go through your notes it gets harder and harder to know where to stop:
This point is far too interesting to leave out ... and if I don't mention that feature they won't even realise all the other things the product can do ... and so on. But by trying to include everything you end up with a bloated and confused presentation.

There's a real danger that the plethora of detail will end up suffocating the message and its audience. After all, you do want your message to be clear and memorable. So is there a simple way to put what you have to say on a weight-reducing diet?

This is where ‘thinking like a cartoonist’ can really help:
Cartoonists are experts at distilling complex messages and ideas. The political cartoonist encapsulates a convoluted policy or politician's character in one incisive image; the editorial cartoonist sums up a long and complicated article in a single, simple picture - often without words. One of the cartoonist's golden rules is, 'less is more', which also happens to be one of the keys to effective communication.

For example, take a look at this simple cartoon.

Isn't it amazing how so few lines can convey such a large amount of information? A powerful and sophisticated emotional state is expressed with great clarity and economy, yet there are hardly any marks on the page.

But it can be difficult to know where to draw the line:
'If you'll forgive the pun' and put your pen down - especially when the drawing is shaping up so nicely. There’s always that critical little voice: surely it would be even better if you drew more detail around the eyes, an outline around the head, a nose, ears and hair?

No, it wouldn't. Experience has taught me that adding more and more detail just ends up diluting the power and focus of the expression, not enhancing it.

Putting 'less is more' to work
Let's go back to the beginning: You've created a pile of notes the height of Kilimanjaro - no wonder that as you read through them the point you're trying to make seems to get lost in the clouds.

So how can you apply the 'less is more' principle to this unwieldy paper mountain?
Well, start by asking yourself the question: what is the single, central point I’m trying to make? Do your best to sum up your message in one short sentence that could be understood by an intelligent twelve-year-old. Re-read your notes and turn them into a sequence of bullet points or keywords - at this stage, don't worry about arranging them in terms of relevance.

Now reduce the number of bullet points by at least seventy-five per cent. Base your cull on the importance or relevance of each point to your one sentence message, and axe the least relevant points first. So if you began with twenty bullet points, you should now be left with the five most relevant ones.

Work up your remaining points into a coherent presentation and forget about the ones that ended up on the cutting room floor. If your presentation captures the imagination of your listeners, these points will probably emerge later in discussion anyway.

Remember the impact of the simple cartoon expression:
And trust that the power and focus of your message will increase as a result of reducing the overall number of points you're trying to make. Less really is more – why not give it a try!

Martin Shovel is co-director of CreativityWorks, a learning consultancy that transforms people into more effective thinkers and communicators by developing their visual thinking abilities. Find out more by visiting

Other articles by this author:


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!