Tag Archives: public speaking

Bullets Are Killing Your Presentation

Presentation_Design_Bullet
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.

Presentation_Design_Tiger_Slide1

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.

Presentation_Design_Tiger_Slide2

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.

Presentation_Design_Tiger_Slide3

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.

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Emotions and Memory

Emotions and Memory
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

Thinking In Pictures

Thinking In PicturesIt has been long recognized that visual representations greatly enhance our ability to remember and recall information. In fact, the dominance of the visual sense is the most important principle of the Art of Memory.

Perhaps Aristotle said it best, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” (De Anima)

If one hears “red brick house, 4 windows, stoop with three steps” an image begins to form in the brain, essentially streamlining the words heard into one cohesive picture. The brain is doing some work here to make information easier to remember.

When presenting information to an audience the goal is to not only engage your audience but to make your arguments or data memorable. Don’t make your audience do more work than they need to, because, as all presenters know… they wont.

Why not help the brain out and make the information as easy to remember as possible? Do the work of the brain, so you’re not relying on disinterested brains to take that extra step. Show your audience illustrations, icons and diagrams that they can associate with the information presented.

For instance, a scientist tasked with explaining the similarities and differences between diamonds and graphite to laypeople might offer a confusing explanation of molecular structure, carbon and tetrahedral formations. The audience, unfamiliar with the terms and thus unable to streamline the information into a cohesive visual idea, will likely discard the information. The scientist has just failed his task, when instead, he could have offered a simple diagram to increase the audience’s retention.

Molecular Carbon ImageThis slide, constructed for a patent hearing, shows the molecular structure and bonding configurations of sp2 and sp3 carbon, and then ties that information to the end product, something familiar to the layperson. Suddenly, the scientist’s task is easier and the audience has a visual aid to both understand and remember just what this scientist is trying to explain.

When presenting, its critical to use your slides to give the audience all the visual cues and imagery they need to be able to quickly comprehend and file away the information for future recall.

Like Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.”

The Art of Memory

The Art of MemoryWhether a presentation is meant to inform or convince, the audience wont get much out of it unless the content is memorable enough to stay with them.

Memory is a slippery fish. Sometimes we try to remember, and fail. Sometimes we’d love to discard information, but just can’t seem to shake it free from our memory. What makes some events and information more memorable than others? And more importantly for presenters, how can even the most dry subject material become memorable?

Everyone remembers where they were when they saw the footage of the World Trade Center attack; the image exists, ready to be recalled at the mere mention of the event. The vows of a spouse may, likewise, be happily burned into our memories along side the emotions they produced. We may also be able to recall nearly word for word, some of our favorite childhood stories.

People as far back as the early Egyptians noted the difference that images, emotion and narrative had on solidifying events and information into concrete memories.

Based on these first realizations, philosophers, orators and men of science throughout the ages went to work to understand memory: how it works, how to improve it, and how to appeal to it. Overtime, some of the most influential minds of history took up the study. Greats like Aristotle and Cicero wrote at length regarding their thoughts and findings about memory and how to affect it. Some of the earliest works date back as far as 400BCE. Now collectively referred to as the Art of Memory, the main principles can be divided into three main buckets: Visual, Emotional, and Organizational.

An image, seen again, brings to mind the associated information. Information that made us feel happy, sad or scared, gets a special place in our memory. Information that was organized into a linear storyline of cause and effect helps the brain build causal bridges between the events, helping to tie the memories together.

How can these main principles be harnessed to improve your presentations and your audiences engagement and recall? The following three posts will explore the principles of the Art of Memory, and how to use them to insure your presentations make your information as memorable as possible.