What my hair stylist taught me about presenting data: The Karen Messina rule

Recently I started going to a new person to cut my hair.  Her name is Karen Messina.

As we got started, Karen asked me what number clipper blade I used on my sides.  I told I used a #1, the shortest blade.

Karen provided a quick bit of hair stylist wisdom. “How about if I use a #3.  Then you take a look.  If you want it shorter, I’ll use the #1.  I can always take off more, but I can’t put it back once it’s gone”.

I thought about Karen’s statement and realized it is similar to advice I give leaders with regard to presentations.

Too often leaders put too much information into their presentations.  This reduces clarity, creates confusion, and slows down meetings and decision-making.

It’s important for people to have all of the information they need to make a decision.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to provide all of the information you have.  It also doesn’t mean that you have to present what you have all at once.

The Karen Messina rule for data is simple.  It’s the converse of the rule for hair: Provide the simplest argument first (what you think and why you think it).  Then, layer in additional data in response to your audience’s questions and challenges.

You can always add complexity to your presentation. But if you start complex (and confuse your audience), you can never make it simple.

The Karen Messina rule lets your audience direct the presentation.  It allows them to tell you what additional data, if any, they need.

Applying this simple tip will help people focus and understand you, shorten your meetings, and speed up decision-making.

Start aiming for short presentations (whether written, spoken, or in PowerPoint) with large appendices.  Your audience will thank you.

For tips on create simple, concise presentations, check out:

How to create a presentation in six slides

Telling your story, simply, quickly, and effectively


Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author with Avail Advisors.  Avail can help you simplify your problems, decisions, data, and communication.  Contact Brad at brad.kolar@availadvisors.com.

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