Defeating “Death by PowerPoint”: 3 Tips for Making Your Presentations More Memorable
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re asked to give a training or update to some group within your company so you fire up the old standby, PowerPoint, and start putting together your deck. Pie charts, bullet points and, if you’re feeling particularly wild, perhaps an animation here or there (hold me back!).
Why do we do this?
Some will say that it’s what’s expected, and so we must conform to business norms. Others don’t know anything different and aren’t aware there’s a world beyond the slide deck. If our goal, though, is to communicate information that we hope will stick with those attending, then this method is the absolute least effective way of doing the job.
Yep, we’ve been doing it all wrong.
Ever hear the phrase “Process for process’ sake?” What we’ve been conditioned to expect in the business world is a tool for the tool’s sake. PowerPoint is a useful tool with lots of bells and whistles and we’ve evolved into creating pitch-perfect PowerPoint presentations that might tangentially have some useful data in it. These presentations, while “done right”, are given to people planted in their chairs, which according to all the best science on the subject it turns out to be the least effective method for learning.
Presentation done “right”? Check. Information retained? Umm . . . So what’s a trainer to do? Let’s look at some facts, and how to apply them to training situations.
FACT 1: When learners move, oxygen to the brain increases, thereby enhancing both learning and memory.
Have you ever wrestled with a particularly difficult problem or decision that needed to be made and thought, “I need to get some air”? You could simply walk to the coffee machine in your office, or even go for a walk around the block. Why do we do this? Because the movement increases your blood flow to your brain and you actually think better while doing it. This same principle applies to how we learn. Our brains work better with more oxygen. Movement, then, can increase the ability of your audience to absorb what you are trying to get across to them. So give them an excuse to do this – ask them to stand and stretch, create stations in your conference room centered around different concepts, or even ask them to just walk once around the table and sit at a different seat than they were sitting at beforehand. This small item will increase your audience’s attention and ability to absorb what you are trying to convey to them.
FACT 2: When learners talk about the content, it becomes more personal to them and they remember more.
Why do we have book clubs? It’s because we want to share our own thoughts on what we have read and interact with others about the material. If we just read it on our own, we don’t have any personal investment in it. The same applies for town halls, discussion groups, or any other forum where we take our turn contributing to the discourse of the event. Think of the difference between a town hall and your typical Sunday-morning sermon. Audience members at a town hall are engaged, active, and participating. When people listen to most sermons, they are detached, inactive, and passive. Which type of audience would be better for your presentations? It’s obvious, right? We want our audience engaged and plugged in to our topics. Why then should we simply talk AT them when we can talk WITH them? Involve your audience intentionally. Invite their responses. Break into small groups and have them share
with others around them. The connections they make - the unique perspectives and insights they bring to the topics at hand - will surprise and gratify you, I promise.
FACT 3: When learners are given variety, their brains will pay more attention to what is new versus more of the same.
Imagine you are stuck at a railroad crossing in your car. As the train goes by, car after car of the same brown boxes flash before your eyes in an endless procession. Then in the midst of this sea of brown is one red car painted with colorful images. If someone were to ask you to describe the fourth brown car from the end, I doubt you’d be able to recall many details. If asked to describe that red car, however, you could probably recall several distinct pieces of information about it. This is because “Different Trumps Same”, as Sharon Bowman says in her book Training from the Back of the Room. Our brains are drawn to what’s new and different as opposed to the same thing repeated over and over. So why don’t we apply this to our presentations? A slide with 12 bullet points of information on it insures your audience will only read the first words of about every third line. Instead, try using a slide that is a full screen image as you discuss your bullet points. Divide up your 12 points into different slides and present each in a different way. Do something to shake up the monotony of slide after slide looking exactly the same. Doing this will grab the attention of your audience and will help them absorb more of your content.
If you have the lingering feeling that your presentations are just not cutting it, you’re probably right. I would suggest it’s time to make a change and see how it works for you. Try a few of these principles out with your next presentation and evaluate the difference it makes for your audience. I promise that they will remember more of what you are trying to convey to them. And isn’t that the real reason we do these presentations in the first place?
NOTE: Much of the basis for this article comes from Sharon Bowman's book Training From The Back Of The Room. I highly recommend it and would also recommend taking one of her courses if you are interested in this topic. Scrum 360 can offer public and private Training From The Back Of The Room courses and we would be happy to arrange a private training for your organization.