To be fair, this was a panel with Kathy Sierra, Cliff Atkinson, Craig Ball, and Jared Goralnick, and each single member gave me insights. Sierra was the connecting element. A little while ago, I wrote a post about how to give a presentation and change the world. This discussion was more about what gets your attention, keeps it, and works with your brain.
Attention is Hard to Get
We kicked things off by talking about how hard it is to get everyone's attention. There's lots of content competing for our time. In this context, presentations that worked in the past don't work today. It's not just issues of design. With the technology now available to many, the bar continues to be raised higher and audiences have new expectations.
One of the sure ways to get attention is to engage your audience. To do that, you need to understand how things work. This is a research question. So research is the best place to begin.
There's no research that using templates is better than telling a story, for example. Because this is the way we've done it is not research. UC Santa Barbara Richard Mayer studies how people learn with the use of words and pictures in presentations. He found that there are three kinds of experiences:
- no learning
- fragmented learning <-- right now, we're stuck here
- meaningful learning
To solve the problem we need to change the shape on our assumption on how people learn and move towards:
- sensory and long term, unlimited to capacity
- working memory - we can hold three to four chunks of information at any one time
We often have a lot of information we'd want to present our audience, but every step of the way we face the problem of limitation of the mind/working memory. We need to sync two channels into the brain - visual and auditory. We need to guide memory, signal what people should pay attention to.
Information design is not effective. We need to look at PowerPoint as a film strip with an audio-visual, thread: simplify the story and ease the way information passes through the eye of the needle.
What Turns Your Brain on
Our brains still think we're living in cave. Your mind wants to pay attention, but your brain is saying "this is so not life threatening!" We have this epic battle - the brain is a spam filter. Since we cannot consciously tune this spam filter, how does the brain know what to let through?
One of the main signals is chemistry - that which you feel. Legacy brain cares about things that are unusual, strange, things that stand out, are scary, exciting, innocent and might need help, joy (play = preparing for survival), faces, like to resolve things like mysteries (what's the story).
The brain does not care about tablet PCs, it doesn't care about code. In essence, you talk to the brain, not to the mind.
Retention is Key
It has been observed that juror retention after 72 hours is 10% when just hearing, 20% when the information is visual, and 65% when it is both visual and auditory. Ball has been experimenting with time lines, icons, and visual anchors to achieve that mix.
PowerPoint is not just a linear presentation tool, it is possible to adapt a presentation to information with hyper links. One illustration of that is the "Ken Burns Effect". Your can make things come to life by using sounds and animation of individual objects. With detailed animated control, you can take people places - shrink audiences down to the physical media.
Focus on What the Person Wants to do
The biggest mistakes people make is an over reliance of the screen as speaker's notes. Instead, use them as visual cues/triggers. That, coupled with not presenting to the brain. Show the information like a brochure, a form and presentation the brain cares about, not like a manual, for example.
The key is not to focus information on the tool, but shift the focus on what the person wants to do.
Often, we don't remember how the brain works. The truth is that you can't hear and read text at the same time. If you're presenting like that, you're forcing the brain to make a choice.
To move from a piece of paper to film script, you need to be looking at the story by which you carry information to your audience. Does a listing technique compare to a story approach? When you want to show a collection of stuff it's reasonable to have a list. When you're seeking some other form of connection, you might rethink your strategy.
One of the first things you learn as a trainer is to seek a reaction. The second level is learning, and the third level is changing behavior. How can you present in such a way that you're getting an actual change of behavior?
How you view the audience and your role as a presenter make a difference. Everything is in service to this - can I help you make a better user of "x". That requires a shift from presenter's experience to user experience. Focus on the audience and how they're going to use the information.
In a connected world we're going to have a back channel concurrent to a presentation. Does that affect how people can use the information? A back channel is an opportunity to have feedback.
Does your slide have a pulse?
What happens between your ears while someone is presenting? When is it appropriate to use bullet points? Is there a time when they're ok?
[image of Kathy Sierra from SxSWi courtesy of alexdelcarvalho]