Almost all presentations (PowerPoint or otherwise) involve a presenter speaking while displaying slides full of words. The idea is that the words on the screen support the spoken words, thus increasing both comprehension and retention.
There is only one problem: the presentations to diminish understanding and retention because the human brain is really bad at multitasking that involves using the same part of the brain. Psychologist Marc Coutanche of the University of Pittsburgh explains in Popular mechanics:
“Your [brain’s] linguistic regions deal with sounds, words, the meaning of sentences. Imagine a circuit where you have multiple inputs and multiple outputs, but they share the same wires. “
In other words, when your brain hears words and sees different words, your brain either simply bypasses (in which case you pull away) or your brain switches between the two sets of words, scrambling them both. This is why virtually all PowerPoint presentations are boring and forgettable.
Your brain can, however, multitask when multitasking places demands on it. different parts of your brain. This is why you can safely drive a car while listening to a podcast.
A lot of very successful entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, have intuitively concluded what science has since suggested and are apparently no longer reluctant to look at PowerPoints.
Fortunately, there are some effective alternatives to slide / bullet presentations. I provided these alternatives in a previous column, but here’s a quick recap:
- If you need to discuss and decide, use a backgrounder. This is a short document (3 pages maximum) that all meeting participants read at the start of the meeting. Important: Do not assign the document as a pre-meeting assignment because hardly anyone will read it.
- If you teach and train, create interactive experiences. This means exercise books, group exercises and above all note taking always with a pencil or a pen and never with a computer. Note-taking on paper dramatically increases retention as it draws on multiple parts of your brain – the PowerPoint effect in reverse.
- If you want to entertain or inspire, give a speech.With a group too large to participate in interactive exercises, consider TED Talk rather than a college lecture. If there is an image that is crucial to understanding your speech, display it, but never, ever display bulleted lists. Think about it: have you ever seen a bulleted list on a TED talk?