Want to improve presentation effectiveness by 30%?
Simply turn off the projector
In 2007, a research team from the University of New South Wales, led by John Sweller, PhD, released a study that concluded that when humans attempt to read and listen at the same time, working memory is overloaded and they retain less than if they either read or listen separately.
This is actually quite easy to test. The next time you’re watching your favourite all-news channel, try listening to what the announcer is saying while reading what’s scrolling across the screen. Even if both are based on the same story, it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to realize that if you hope to get anything out of the exercise, you have to block out one or the other.
The same happens during presentations with even the simplest of written information on the screen. The slide shown here has eleven words, which have been changed to gibberish here. But the slide has the same number of letters and words that a research team in Munich determined decreased communication because of the “speech suppression effect of PowerPoint.”
So what does this mean for your presentations? If you’re in the room, turn off the projector. If you’re delivering via Zoom (or some other technology), don’t share your slides. Instead, use your slides as your notes (as you’ve always done) and simply talk to your audience.
Your slides are your notes, and your notes are on your laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone. Deliver your presentation as you normally would, but without showing a single bullet point to the audience. If you truly need a visual to aid understanding, introduce it, show it and allow them to absorb it. Answer questions about it. When it’s no longer needed, remove it from view and carry on the conversation with the audience.
As the studies listed below demonstrate, the research is absolutely clear. By not showing slides, and simply talking to your audience, they will remember twenty to thirty per cent more of what you say.
The studies below highlight the most important question about the communication effectiveness of any presentation. Which approach gets more information to the long-term memory of the audience? Showing slides? Or not showing slides?
In each of these studies, two identical presentations were delivered. One showed the slides. One didn’t.
At the end of the presentation, the audience completed a quiz based on what was presented. The only question that matters is: Which audience scores higher?
Was it the audience that saw the slides? Or the audience that didn’t?
- Researchers at Purdue University concluded it’s possible to “hear” more of what a professor says by not attending class, than attending a class in which slides are shown.
- Researchers from Barcelona concluded that slides impede communication, leading to lower retention by the audience, and addressed the belief that, when using slides, the slides themselves are not the problem. If people knew how to use slideware properly, this argument goes, there wouldn’t be a problem. “PowerPoint doesn’t bore people,” these folks often say. “Using PowerPoint poorly is what bores people.” Not true.
- Researchers in Munich confirmed the results of the studies at Purdue and Barcelona. This team tested two types of slides—what they called “regular” and “concise” slides—versus just talking to the audience. From this research, the researchers coined the term “the speech suppression effect of PowerPoint.”
Turn standard presentations ...
Into meaningful, memorable conversations with your audience
For less than the cost of a single slide, you’ll gain insight into how audiences listen. You’ll learn how you can get more of what you say into the long-term memory of those in attendance, whether in the room or via Zoom.
You’ll learn to create presentations that tell a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. You’ll understand how to tell that story in a memorable way, delivering your ideas to the audience one bucket at a time. And you’ll gain insight into why answering questions is the magical topping to having your ideas understood and retained, long after your audience has left the room or signed off Zoom.
John Sweller, PhD, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists, writes:
“The central theme of this book that a presentation should be a conversation is ingenious. Humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to communicate by conversation. We are mentally structured to do so.
“For anyone seeking to set themselves and their ideas apart, this book is well worth the read. Eric Bergman’s techniques are a window to the future of this important human activity.”
One Bucket at a Time is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.