LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

June 12, 2008
Volume 4, Issue 12

"How-to" tips and advice on increasing business prosperity, published every other Thursday.

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-- Feature Article: Tips for Designing Powerful and Persuasive Slide Presentations

-- Note from the Author: New Ways to Influence Your Audiences

-- Special Message: A Treasure Trove of Presentations

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Note from the Author

New Ways to Influence Your Audiences

Slide presentationToday's newsletter issue focuses on using effective presentation design and persuasive story-telling to communicate compelling and convincing ideas to your colleagues, clients, customers, employers, personnel, and students.

Why is this topic important? Do you need to inform your audience of the merits of a proposal, develop an influential case for a new training program or project extension, or provide facts and data that other people will need to interpret and act on?

If so, at stake are the project ideas and pipe dreams that may be incubating in your think tank, or decisions that need attention and concurrence from others.

Below, you'll find a set of techniques that will help you communicate much more effectively the value of your concepts, information, ideas, and beliefs.

For these reasons, I hope you enjoy today's features, including "Tips for Designing Powerful and Persuasive Slide Presentations." And please join the conversation by leaving your comments on my blog!

Here's to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, author of the "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" success program

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, visit the newsletter index!

Special Message

A Treasure Trove of Presentations

Man presenting to audienceHave you attended a Webinar lately? The term Webinar is short for "Web seminar," which refers to the virtual meeting space where people from all over the globe can tune in to hear and interact with a live presenter.

Of the growing number of Webinar services today, some offer the capability of recording their live seminars for later viewing. One such venue is Microsoft's Live Meeting forum. Using its own Live Meeting product, Microsoft has sponsored a host of highly informative, *free* Webinars featuring well-known speakers.

To learn more about marketing, management, leadership, speaking, business success, and many other topics, follow this link to a treasure trove of terrific archived presentations. Three of these Web seminars are by Cliff Atkinson, whose ideas appear in today's feature article; below are the direct links to his talks. Watch them in this order, and enjoy!

1) Transform Your PowerPoint Beyond Bullet Points

2) The PowerPoint Storyboard

3) How to Prevent PowerPoint Overload

Feature Article

Tips for Designing Powerful and Persuasive Slide Presentations
by Adele Sommers

Man giving a boring presentation to a sleeping audienceJust about everyone who has spent any amount of time in the corporate world has watched someone give a slide presentation that put the whole audience to sleep. Many of us were taught to follow a familiar model of designing presentations that, unfortunately, does not sustain attention or understanding.

You know the type I mean -- the text-heavy, bullet point-crammed slides, often covered with dense charts and detailed diagrams that can't possibly be read even at close range, much less from across the room. Throw in a heavy lunch, deliver it in mid-afternoon, and voila! You have a recipe for a coma!

The sad part about presentations like these is that the most valuable information gets distorted, buried, or simply discarded. Between the poor design of the visuals and the lack of story-telling flair, we can make it nearly impossible for our audiences to grasp and retain the meaning of what we're trying to convey.

To help remedy the situation, this article discusses presentation design tips and techniques that can boost your audience's ability to interpret and respond to your proposals, concerns, analyses, and ideas.

How Can We Improve Presentation Design?

The presentations we create must be "high-impact" to get attention, but also "low-bandwidth" in terms of the effort and brain-power required to process them. When we communicate with simple, clearly designed messages, people will more readily:

  • Retain the information
  • Retrieve from it memory under the right circumstances, and
  • Take action on it in the way you intended

Presentation design principles come to the rescue by:

  • We can process only 3-4 chunks of information at a timeEasing the burden on the viewer's brain by reducing the information processing load.
  • Working within the limitations of short-term memory.
  • Using several other extensively researched principles of perception and learning.

Studies published in 1956 by George
Miller indicated that our short-term memories can handle about "7 plus or minus 2" chunks of information at a time. Nearly 50 years later, however, Nelson Cowan revisited Miller's and others' studies. After looking a host of new research in 2001, he discovered that we're really only capable of assimilating about 3-4 chunks of information at once. That's not very much processing power!

What exactly do these limitations mean for our presentations?

We Need to Go "Beyond Bullet Points"

Cliff Atkinson is a master of presentation design. His articles, presentations, and newly updated book, "Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire," will completely alter your previous beliefs about using text-based slide shows.

"Beyond Bullet Points" by Cliff AtkinsonAtkinson has pondered PowerPoint presentations with the same zeal and thoroughness that aspiring surgeons have studied anatomy. His findings may surprise you...

Did you know that you can actually reduce your audience's understanding of your material by using slide presentation templates that bear your company logo and identification? (That's because these elements can distract attention from the main content.)

Or that the use of mostly text-based slides, without any illustrations or meaningful organization, can overwhelm short term memory, working against the audience's ability to successfully process, store, and retrieve the material?

Atkinson cites research by Dr. Richard E. Mayer (see Mayer's "Multimedia Learning") and others who have experimented with the phenomenon of cognitive overload.

For example, Dr. Mayer found that by simply adding relevant illustrations to text-only presentation materials, learners experienced the following benefits:

  • Retention increased by 23%, and
  • Their ability to later apply the information increased by 89%.

People comprehend and retain better without extraneous information: Less is moreLikewise, even more dramatically, Mayer found that by simplifying the material -- which meant removing everything that wasn't directly related to the discussion:

  • Retention increased by 189%, and
  • The ability to later apply the information increased by 105%!

This last finding provides a powerful incentive to avoid including graphics or multimedia effects simply for the sake of including them. If you want the audience to retain the information, less is more. That means incorporating only the graphics that closely relate to your content, and removing all extraneous, distracting details -- including company logos.

In contrast, if you simply want to entertain your audiences without worrying about retention, you could potentially go crazy with special effects!

Use a Simple, Graphical, Story-Telling Approach

Drawing on all of this research, Atkinson proposes an entirely different model for presentations. His method emphasizes a cinematic storyboard technique, rich but concise imagery, and verbal narration. He asserts that in order to convey our ideas convincingly, we should apply a movie metaphor to craft a compelling visual and auditory narrative -- not an endless stream of bullet-point lists.

Atkinson believes that to help people make informed decisions about complex topics, we need to "blend one part storytelling, one part persuasion, and one part Hollywood screenwriting to create a powerful approach" to presentations.

Spotlights aimed at the stageBut instead of infusing our presentations with excessive special effects, Atkinson recommends a methodology to organize our thoughts into compelling, scalable stories that flow like movies. This approach includes breaking the material into meaningful chunks (say, 3-4 main topics or ideas) that your audiences can easily absorb.

Aiming the Spotlights

Atkinson's formula parallels a three-act play:

  • Act I sets the stage by giving a short overview of a conflict that the protagonists (your audiences) are experiencing, and recommends a solution.
  • Act II then "develops the action" by elaborating on three to four main points of the solution. Here, you would present each main point and then summarize it before moving on to the next main point, which strengthens understanding and retention. Depending on the total amount of time available to present, you can expand or reduce your Act II discussion accordingly.
  • Act III recaps the problem and the solution to help the audience fully digest the story. This short segment summarizes and completes the presentation.

Further, Atkinson says, each content slide should:

  • Cover only one central idea.
  • Use a single, complete sentence as a heading.
  • Avoid or minimize the use of bulleted lists of text.
  • Include a relevant image or simplified diagram to boost retention and recall.

In conclusion, with any type of presentation -- persuasive, informational, technical, or instructional -- you can use these guidelines to strengthen your logical case and emotional connection. You can thereby leave your audiences with clearer and more compelling reasons to embrace and retain your ideas, and take appropriate actions.

Copyright 2008 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

"Brain Rules" -- More Insights into How We Process Information

"Brain Rules" by John MedinaYou can find another fascinating look at the brain and various aspects of cognitive processing in "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School," by Dr. John Medina.

Medina is a developmental molecular biologist, research consultant, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. Yet despite the formality of his credentials, his communication style is unique and highly refreshing.

To see a series of fascinating video presentations on the 12 "brain rules," go to Medina's Web site at brainrules.net. Medina's presentations are straightforward and extremely engaging, demonstrating a very enjoyable way to learn.

Tip: The video on Rule #7 (why sleep is so important) is hysterically funny as well as informative. Look for it on the home page on the right-hand side, and enjoy!

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" -- an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today's issue, you'll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It's accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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