In the last part of this Presentation Management series of posts, we explored how you can make better presentations by telling better stories. In this part, we look at why presentations that are short and memorable are more successful.
Keep It Short. The 10-Minute Rule
Our brains are lazy. According to molecular biologist John Medina in his 2008 book, Brain Rules, the mind gets bored at 10 minutes. Next time you are in a not-too-exciting meeting — ergo, the typical corporate meeting with a PowerPoint presentation — check yourself when you check the time. It will be in 10 minutes.
A lot of our clients have very complicated products and services, and the story they need to tell cannot be told in a mere 10 minutes. Pharmaceutical companies have presentations that encompass everything about a drug: its molecular composition, uses, diseases it treats, clinical trials methodology and results, risks, legal disclosures, and other information. Those presentations can grow to well over 100 slides. So what do you do?
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, do something big.
His presentations were 30 minutes to an hour-long. But every 10 minutes he’d break up the monotony by, say, introducing a new speaker, using a prop, or cutting to video. He broke up the monotony to keep listeners riveted.
Break up your presentation into 10-minute chunks. After 10 minutes, make a change. Switch presenters, introduce a prop, ask the audience a question. Do something to break up the monotony. When you have a very long presentation, break it down into sections and make an obvious change to re-engage your audience.
Make It Memorable
Have you ever walked out of a presentation with a phrase or image emblazoned on your mind? Or more likely, you’ve walked out of a presentation and couldn’t recall a single thing. In one ear, out the other. Our presentations are competing with a million other things for our audience’s attention, from email to mass media to family issues. Everyone is multitasking and distracted. Therefore, as presenters, we have to work harder to not only get our message across but to make it memorable. We asked Carmen Simon, author of Impossible to Ignore, how to make memorable, impactful presentations.
Here’s her advice.
1. Know What You Want Your Presentation to Be Remembered For
Determine what your audience should remember and why it is important. A lot of business communicators aspire to be memorable, but few know what specific memories they want to set in other people’s brains.
Audiences forget 90 percent of what you share after 48 hours.
Pick the one thing that you really want your audience to remember, and reinforce it throughout your presentation.
2. Provide Cognitive Ease
Once it’s clear to you what message you want to stick with your audience, make sure that message comes to their minds easily. Often we get enamored with our own words and ideas, and we forget that just because these messages come to our minds easily, they might not have the same effect on others.
Here’s an example.
Carmen was sitting in a hotel lobby browsing through a magazine article about the new McLaren 570S Spider model. The main message focused on its “dihedral synchro-helix actuation,” which is the technical term for the way the doors swing, guiding air into the side intakes to feed the radiators. Would you remember this phrase after two days? Dihedral-what? You might remember it if you were a car fanatic and might have existing mental models around this type of verbiage. For the average person, if we describe the doors as “up-and-out” doors or “butterfly doors,” it will be easier to remember the message.
Once you clarify the message you want to make memorable, ensure that the language you use makes the message come to others’ brains easily. Cognitive ease is a prerequisite to memorable stories. Make it simple.
3. Use Sensory Stimulation
In the paragraph above, was it easier for you to process the phrase “butterfly doors” more so than other phrases? Visuals are important to memory because we build our memories through our senses, and visual is a powerful sense.
Have you ever looked at a picture of a chocolate lava cake oozing fudge, and thought, I can almost taste it. That’s because the visual image evokes your sense of smell, taste, and chocolate satisfaction. It stimulates your senses.
Appealing to other senses activates additional brain parts, which forms more memory traces. A presentation about arthritis could use a sensory description of arthritic pain like this: “knuckles cracking, throbbing and swollen so badly that she couldn’t even hold her fork at dinner.” Those words “throbbing” and “swollen” evoke pain, and using a fork at dinner is something we do every day, without a second thought (until we can’t anymore).
You May Also Like: Impossible to Ignore: Conversation with Carmen Simon
The examples activate more brain areas (visual cortex, motor cortex, amygdala, frontal cortex, hippocampus). When more brain parts become active, it increases the chance that the stimuli you mention will trigger memories later on. Just in these few paragraphs, words such as doors, butterfly, pain, hands, dinner fork … seeing any of these later may remind you of reading this. In short, try to evoke real human feelings.
In the next part of this Presentation Management series of posts, we will look at how you can think of story elements from a visual perspective.
Presentation Management Series: All Posts
All posts from the Presentation Management series are listed on this page, Presentation Management: The Entire Series.
First, try and answer these questions. Feel free to read the post again if needed. Then, scroll down to below the author profiles to find the answers.
Q1: In his 2008 book, who said that the mind gets bored at 10 minutes?
Q2: When you look at a picture of a chocolate lava cake oozing fudge, can you almost taste it?
AlexAnndra Ontra, co-founder of Shufflrr, is a leading advocate for presentation management. She has been providing presentation technology and consulting services to global enterprises for over 15 years.
At Shufflrr, Alex advises Shufflrr clients through the process: from trial to content architecture, through the launch, training, and then on-going software upgrades. She’s hands-on. She is a leading expert in presentation management strategy, implementation, and adaptation.
James Ontra is co-founder and CEO of Shufflrr. His 30-year career has focused on the highest profile presentations for world class companies. His clients have included: American Express, Bloomberg, Epcot Center, Mercedes Benz, NBC Olympics, Warner Bros. and many more.
His vision and strategy have been driving Presentation Management to become a recognized communication discipline. James combined this passion with technical development to build Shufflrr. Presentation Management is smart communication strategy.
Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional), and has been designing and training with PowerPoint for more than two decades. He heads Indezine, a presentation design studio and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India.
Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements–these elements include abstract elements like story, consistency, and interactivity — and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. He explains how these elements work together in his training sessions. He has also authored six books on PowerPoint and Microsoft Office.
A1: Our brains are lazy. According to molecular biologist John Medina in his 2008 book, Brain Rules, the mind gets bored at 10 minutes.
A2: Have you ever looked at a picture of a chocolate lava cake oozing fudge, and thought, I can almost taste it. That’s because the visual image evokes your sense of smell, taste, and chocolate satisfaction. It stimulates your senses. Author Carmen Simon recommends using sensory stimulation as one of the methods to make your presentations more memorable.