This Neurological Trick Makes Your Presentations Twice As Memorable
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Given the huge amounts of information most of us have to cram into our presentations, getting people to remember everything is a tall order.
Now, we all have different presentation styles and different ways of making our message memorable. Storytellers build an emotional bond with their audience by making their presentations emotional or dramatic. Data scientists fill their presentations with the facts using hard data, information and analysis. Closers cut right to the chase, skipping all the ‘boring stuff,’ and Directors take a logical and linear approach that hits every detail. Test your own presentation style with this free quiz: What’s Your Presentation Style?
Regardless of whether you’re a Storyteller, Data Scientist, Closer or a Director, if people don’t remember your presentations, there’s really no point in making them. Memory is a complex cognitive activity whereby the brain selects and targets what it wants to remember. We’ve got to give people something their brain will hold onto. Fortunately, there’s a cool neurological trick that will help you do just that.
Imagine you’re giving a presentation with an accompanying slide deck. If you’re like most presenters, each slide has more than one point (maybe there’s a complex chart or multiple bullets). But there’s typically one item on that slide that’s more important than all of the others, your ‘holy mackerel’ point, and that’s the point you really need your audience to absorb and remember.
So how do you get your audience to both focus on the right point and commit it to memory? Well, you could physically point to the part of the slide where that point is written, or you could give a verbal direction such as ‘look up here in the top right hand corner.” We see this a lot in presentations and, while it’s a nice try, it’s just not all that effective.
There’s a much better way to draw your audiences’ focus to the key points you want them to remember. It’s a simple, yet powerful, trick neurologists have discovered called ‘spatial cueing.’ Spatial cueing is when you highlight a specific part of the slide, e.g. with a colored circle or zooming or fading out the rest of the slide.
Here’s an example…
It’s really quite simple. The chart on the left doesn’t have any cues. It might be important stuff, but it’s really hard to focus on any particular point, and you’re probably not going to walk away remembering anything from this chart. But the chart on the right uses a red circle to highlight the part of the chart that the audience should pay attention to.
And while it’s tough to show this well in an article, it’s even more neurologically powerful when the red circle ‘appears’ around 200 milliseconds after the slide appears (two-tenths of a second). And that’s not just a random number; Harvard researchers found that about 200 milliseconds after seeing words there is a spike in activity in the brain cells, suggesting recognition of the words on the screen. This is when you want to grab your audience by the brain and hold them.
In a recent study, researchers in France tested the effects of spatial cueing by teaching subjects about the inner mechanisms of an upright piano. (Pianos are actually fairly complicated inside; the piano key activates a complex lever causing a felt hammer to hit the string while simultaneously lifting a damper off the string). The researchers showed one group of subjects a ‘cued’ animation of the piano mechanism and another group received non-cued instruction. Afterwards all groups took a written comprehension test to test their knowledge. Depending on the type of visual cueing they saw, subjects in the cued condition scored as much as 75% better on the comprehension test than the non-cued subjects. That’s the equivalent of the cued people getting a perfect 100% on a test and the non-cued people failing miserably with a 57%.
For all of us who make presentations as part of our job, we really need to ask ourselves whether we want our audiences to ace our test (remember everything) or fail it miserably (remember next to nothing). And if my job depends on people remembering what I say, I need them to ace the test.
So what can you do in your next presentation? Well, for starters, think carefully about the single most important point on every slide in your presentation. I can virtually guarantee that every slide has one point that is more valuable than the others.
Then, once you’ve identified those critical points, you need to use spatial cueing to highlight those key points for your audience. Use a red circle or zoom the slide into that important item or fade out the rest of the slide so only the important point remains visible.
Without the spatial cues, the audience doesn’t know what part of the slide to focus on and they waste neurological energy trying to remember unimportant information. Intuitively it just makes sense that a slide with six bullet points is much more difficult to remember than a slide with one really important point circled in red.
Not only does this make intuitive sense, but also, neurologically, the cueing uses a diffuse fronto-parietal cortical network in the brain. And that’s why it can significantly increase attention and retention.
Now that you know this, you should never again display a slide with a chart or bulleted list without a circle or zoom to focus your audience’s attention where you want it to go. It will make your slides more memorable and your presentation will be a lot more pleasant and engaging for your audience. And generally speaking, when your audience is happy, good things happen.
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