Marketers know better than anyone the importance of effective communication. With any marketing efforts, the goal is to deliver a message to your audience in a way that engages them, sticks in their minds, and persuades them to take action—and the same holds true for any kind of presentation. Whether building a deck for your sales team, asking for budget from senior management, or developing a brand-building keynote for a major conference, you need to be engaging, memorable, and persuasive.
In our daily work at Prezi, my team and I have done a lot of research on how to deliver information in a powerful and effective way. We’ve studied the work of psychologists and neuroscientists to try to understand how people’s brains work. As it turns out, we are hardwired to respond to certain kinds of content, and there are a few simple things that presenters can do to take advantage of this. Here’s what science has to say about improving your presentations:
- Stop using bullet points – they’re not conducive to the way your prospects’ brains work.
Everyone is familiar with the traditional slide: a headline followed by a list of bullet points. Science has shown that this format, however, is highly ineffective, especially when compared to a more visual approach. Researchers at the Nielsen Norman Group have conducted numerous eye-tracking studies to understand how people consume content. One of their key findings is that people read web pages in an “F-shaped pattern.” That is, they pay the most attention to the content at the top of the page and read less and less of each subsequent line as they move down the page. If we apply this heatmap to the traditional slide format—a headline followed by a bullet-pointed list of information—it is easy to see that much of the content will go unread.
What’s worse, while your audience is struggling to scan your slides, they won’t be listening to what you have to say, because people can’t actually do two things at once. According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, one of the world’s experts on divided attention, “multitasking” isn’t actually possible. When we think we’re doing multiple tasks at the same time, we are actually switching, cognitively, between each of these tasks very rapidly—which makes us worse at everything we’re trying to do. As a result, if your audience is trying to read while also listening to you, they will likely disengage and miss key pieces of your message.
So next time you’re building a presentation, ditch the bullet points. Instead, stick with visuals instead of text wherever possible, and limit the amount of information on each slide to an amount that is more easy to process.
- Use metaphors so your prospects don’t just process your info – but experience it
Everybody loves a good story that brings sights, tastes, smells, and touch to life—and it turns out that there’s a scientific reason for this. Numerous studies have found that descriptive words and phrases—things like “perfume” and “she had a velvety voice”—trigger the sensory cortex in our brains, which is responsible for perceiving things like taste, smell, touch and sight. That is, the way that our brain processes reading and hearing about sensory experiences is identical to the way it processes actually experiencing them. When you tell stories that are loaded with descriptive imagery, you are, quite literally, bringing your message to life in the brains of your audience.
On the other hand, when presented with non-descriptive information—for example, “Our marketing team reached all of its revenue goals in Q1,”—the only parts of our brain that are activated are the ones responsible for understanding language. Instead of experiencing this content, we are simply processing it.
Using metaphors within stories is such powerful engagement tool because they engage the entire brain. Vivid imagery brings your content to life—quite literally—in the minds of your audience. Next time you want to hold the attention of a room, use vivid metaphors.
- Want to be more memorable? Group your ideas spatially, not just thematically.
Do you think you could memorize the order of two shuffled decks of cards in under five minutes? That is exactly what Joshua Foer had to do when he won the United States Memory Championship in 2006. It might sound impossible, but he was able to memorize a vast quantity of information in a very short period of time this with the help of an ancient technique that has been around since 80 B.C.—a technique you can use to make your presentations even more memorable.
This technique is called the “method of loci,” more commonly known as the memory palace, and it relies on our inherent ability to remember spatial relationships—the location of objects in relation to one another. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved this powerful spatial memory over millions of years to help us navigate the world and find our way.
Many studies have shown that the method of loci improves memory—for example, in one study, normal people who could memorize only a handful of random numbers (seven is the average) were able to remember up to 90 digits after using the technique. That’s an improvement of nearly 1200%.
So, what does the method of loci teach us about creating more memorable presentations? If you can lead your audience on a visual journey that reveals the relationships between your ideas, they will be much more likely to remember your message—because they are much better at remembering that visual journey than they are at remembering bullet-pointed lists.
- Compelling data doesn’t stand alone – it comes with a tale.
Stories are one of the most fundamental ways that we teach children about the world and how to behave. And it turns out that stories are just as powerful when it comes to delivering a message to adults. Research has shown again and again that storytelling is one of the best ways to persuade people to take action.
Take, for example, a study conducted by a marketing professor at Wharton Business School, that tested two different brochures designed to drive donations to the Save the Children Fund. The first brochure told the story of Rokia, a seven-year-old girl from Mali whose “life would be changed” by a donation to the NGO. The second brochure listed facts and figures related to the plight of starving children across Africa—like the fact that “more than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.”
The team from Wharton found that the brochure that contained the story of Rokia drove significantly more donations than the statistics-filled one. This may seem counterintuitive—in today’s data-driven world, making a decision based on “gut feeling” rather than facts and numbers is often frowned-upon. But this Wharton study reveals that in many cases, emotions drive decisions far more than analytical thinking. Next time you want to convince your audience to take action, consider telling a story that brings your message to life rather than presenting data alone.
- Conversations trump pitches when it comes to persuasion.
Marketing professionals know that building content that engages your audience, and encourages them to further interact with it, is more effective than something passively consumed, yet the same can be applied to marketers’ counterpart: sales. A lot of research has been done around persuasion in the context of sales presentations. RAIN Group analyzed the behavior of sales professionals who won over 700 B2B opportunities, in contrast with the behavior of those sellers who came in second place. This research revealed that one of the most important aspects of a winning sales pitch—that is, a persuasive pitch—is connecting with your audience.
In looking at the top ten behaviors that separated persuasive salespeople from those who didn’t win the deal, RAIN Group researchers found that prospects listed collaboration, listening, understanding needs, and connecting personally as some of the most important. In fact, collaborating with the prospect is listed as the number two most important behavior when it comes to winning a sales pitch, just after educating the prospect with new ideas.
Crafting the pitch like a conversation—and creating a framework that allows the audience to take the driver’s seat in deciding what to discuss—is a key tool in selling effectively. More broadly, in any presentation where you are trying to convince your audience to take action, consider taking a more collaborative approach if you want to be successful.