Last week, I started to explore some of the work of Mayer about how to make presentations have more impact, in terms of what audience’s remember and can apply. There’s more though, and it’s all good stuff. In terms of the jargon, it’s what’s called “principles for fostering generative processing” – or to put it another way, getting your presentation’s audience to think, not just sit there.
The first is so simple it doesn’t stand to be repeated here, because you’ll hear it over and over and over online. It’s one of the few tips that any old presentation trainer gives (although often without understanding why or how, and therefore not getting it quite right!). It’s this: your presentation should present words and pictures rather than words alone. Simple.
The second is the ‘personalisation principle’. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the jargon, I think. When you talk, do so in a relatively personal, informal way. Talking about ‘the heart’ is less effective than talking about ‘your heart’, for example. It might mean you stray away from perfect grammar, but no one ever died from being too colloquial, and as we know it works (if you want the statistical data, it has an Effect Size of 1.11 – or “pretty big” to be colloquial about it). Like losing weight, this one is simple-but-not-easy. All too often when we stand up to make a presentation the ‘friendly’ part of our brain switches off and we go into some kind of performance mode – our nerves get the better of us and we feel the need to be seen to be the expert, using formal sentences and so on.
They sound like your presentation has been written, not spoken. The fastest way I’ve found around this is to make sure you’re confident of your material and rehearse it so that you get slightly bored of the formal stuff and begin to allow yourself to flex and improvise a little around your initially-rigid sentence structures.
The last of Mayer’s principles sounds like a bit of a damp squib in terms of live presentations – use a normal, human voice rather than an artificial one. Okay, so you’re not going to use a simulated voice to deliver your words of wisdom, I know, but what about if you’re using a microphone system? The closer your audience is to feeling their presentation is personal, the better. I’m not suggesting you don’t use a microphone if you need to – and more people do than seem to think they need to! – but I’m asking you to at least think about it.
All these presentation principles are great, Simon, but do they actually work?
Yes. Mayer did some pretty cool and simple experiments. Starting with a group of students, he split them into two groups and measured their knowledge about Shock. Reassuringly for the sake of the experiment, the groups had pretty similar levels of understanding. Both groups then got presentations – two of them got the same old presentation style and two groups got a modified presentation, using the principles here and in last week’s post.
It’s good to know that all four groups improved how much they knew about Shock.
And as you’d expect if I’m bothering to report it, the groups that had the modified presentations learned more. )For transparency I should add that the difference was particularly when they were tested for transferred information, but less so for how much audiences were able to apply that information: in other words, this works for learning, but not so much for processing information – but first things first, right?)
So what’s next? What do I do with my presentations?
What I’ve done for some presentations is this:
- get a simple checklist of the nine principles and jot them down in big, clear letters, stuck somewhere you can’t miss such as on the desk right in front of your presentation
- open up your slides deck on slide one
- go through the checklist while looking at that slide to see if you can improve it
- repeat for slides two onwards.
Some slides you might not be able to do much with and for others you might not find it worthwhile, but do what you can, for the slides you can. And use the checklist – it adds discipline to what you’re doing, otherwise you’ll cut corners. If you can’t make a change to a slide, jot down why not, to force you to justify not improving it.
Simple, but not easy, eh?