One of the cardinal sins of presenting is also one of the most (mis)used presentation strategies. Say it with me now, “Bullet Note Script.”
We’ve all suffered through one of these – the presenter has somehow confused the purpose of his slides and that of his notecards, and suddenly we are forced to read the exact words coming out of his mouth. This sensory stereo effect causes glossy eyes and wandering thoughts.
But why? Shouldn’t giving the audience the same information in as many ways as possible maximize their retention?
The reason lies in how the brain processes the information it receives. Incoming information is processed in one of two major places: the auditory cortex and the visual cortex.
The auditory cortex processes language, both spoken and written, while the visual cortex processes images. Although the visual cortex is perfunctorily involved in the processing of the letters into words, during a bullet note presentation it is largely lying dormant while the auditory cortex is being overloaded.
Now instead of appealing to two centers of processing in the brain, the presenter is not reaching either one effectively. Using slides as true visual aids, images that accompany audible language, better pings both processing cortices.
Take the below examples. The first is a typical bullet point slide. There are several things wrong with slides of this nature, though I’ve seen them used by some of the best corporate lawyers around. Full sentences, colloquialisms, small text, LOTS of text, redundant information. Mind-numbing.
Here’s a slightly improved version. Sentences have been shorted into true bullet points. An appropriate image accompanies the text. The slide is now more visually interesting and demands less attention from the auditory cortex’s language processing systems.
A further improved version becomes a true “aid” in that it supports the speaker’s words and arguments, rather than repeating them. This slide speaks directly to the visual cortex and frees up the auditory cortex to focus on the speaker.
It is widely accepted that presenting information both visually and audibly drastically increases attention, persuasion and retention. The bullet note script presentation is the exception to the rule. Avoid bombarding the auditory cortex with simultaneous audible and written language and engage the visual cortex with succinct, high quality graphics in order to best engage your audience.
We’ve explored the effect visual and emotional stimuli has on memory, but the Art of Memory works only begin with these two ideas. There are numerous other tactics and theories covered in the literature. For the most part, those theories all revolve around one main tactic: organizing information.
When presenting, the best way to insure your message stays with your audience is to communicate with them in ways that their brains can easily process, commit to memory and recall. The brain understands the world around it by creating associations among the occurrences and information it perceives. Take a note from the brain’s penchant for organizing information and organize your arguments.
When the brain perceives the world around it, it strives to make sense out of what it perceives. What came first? And then what happened?
There’s a reason that timelines and flowcharts have become presentation staples. An argument line should always be accompanied by linear order of events, whether they be in the past, present or future. By placing information into a linear order and supplying a visual aid for the brain to recall, you’re helping the brain to form a story line in the manner to which it is accustomed.
Long sets of information are tedious and often too detailed for the brain to reliably recall. By chunking information into groups of associated facts, you’re doing some of the work of the brain.
Information chunking can be used in many ways throughout a presentation. Divide a long timeline up into “eras.” Talk about the four main benefit categories of your product, even if within each bucket lie many specific benefits. Categorize facts into argument buckets: premeditation, crime and cover up.
If you’ve ever suffered through late night advertising, you’re familiar with the benefits of repetition. Those ads can be so cloying and irritating. And yet, you remember it. So how can repetition be employed without annoying your audience?
Every presentation should use a “roadmap,” or overview, slide. A roadmap slide will outline the
linear order of your presentation and list the major information chunks you are about to share, plus it comes with the added bonus of being the landing slide between each section. Without the cloyingly obvious “repeater” effect, you get to remind the potential buyer that your product markets, tracks, automates and analyzes several times throughout your presentation. A roadmap slide creates order, chunks your information and fixes your arguments into the listener’s brain with repetition. It it the holy grail of information organization.
The many works that cover the Art of Memory explore many options for enhancing the memorability of information. Though originally developed to aid the rememberer, these principles can be leveraged to create more memorable presentations. Keep in mind the effects of visual stimuli, emotions and information organization when preparing your next presentation and use the tips to not only reach your audience, but stay with them long after you’ve left the stage.
Lately we’ve been exploring the ancient Art of Memory and, most recently, the main principle regarding importance of visual representations to forming strong memories. As a few commenters in our LinkedIn groups mentioned, the visual sense is only one of many ways to appeal to memory. Creating and feeling emotion is another important element to creating strong memories.
“Content alone is never sufficient. We need an emotional connection.”
– Garr Reynolds
When we feel fear, relief, happiness, or sadness these carnal feelings awaken primal parts of our brains. The occurrence or information that caused the emotion, then, is burned into our memories right along with the reaction. Emotion and information gel into one experience, be it positive, negative or simply intense.
Imagine the trial lawyer, is there any question why he emotes so freely during opening and closing statements? In his appeal to the jury, he is solidifying the argument by drumming up their primal and reactive emotions: fear of a defendant (whether it be a murderer or a corporation) or fierce protectiveness of a victim.
Take fracking, for instance. There are many who are informed and opinionated about the issue, but if your job is to educate and convince the everyday layperson, explaining the reduced dependence on foreign oil or environmental dangers might fall on disinterested ears. Instead, appeal to their emotions. Discuss lowered gas prices or, depending on your position, the health risks of natural gas mixing into water supplies.
Sure, fracking is a sensitive subject; not all presentations are chock full of emotionally stimulating information. How do you create the drama when your subject matter is a little dryer?
Stir emotion in your audience by showing them how the information relates to them. If you’re introducing a new software system, make sure you’re appealing to the audience members’ emotions: how will the new software ease their daily workload? how will it help them excel in their careers? Allay any emotions you do not want them to associate with the information: the new software will not render any jobs obsolete.
When presenting, it’s important to use all the tools available to communicate to your audience in a way they can understand and remember. Visual aids help solidify information into memory and emotion has a way of seating information in our minds. Not only does it grab attention, but it creates a relatable experience for the audience. Relate information to your audience in a way that makes them feel your point.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou