I have no proof of this, but I’m relatively certain primitive salespeople cold calling in caves used chisel on rock to create visual presentation media. While we’ve taken giant leaps forward, from pen-on-paper to transparencies and overhead projectors to the current state-of-the-art computer presentations with LED projection, I would suggest our ability to effectively use visual presentation media has remained in the Stone Age. As a matter-of-fact, I would further submit these technological leaps, in some cases, do more harm than good. Yes, my friends, the current technology may be more efficient than rock and chisel, but no more effective in front of your customers.
So what’s the intention of visual presentation media? What’s the objective of its use? RETENTION! That’s right. The primary objective of using visual presentation media is to help ensure your customers retain the information they have been exposed to in your presentation long after you’re gone.
I’m not certain how scientific these numbers are, but it is been said people retain 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they see, 40% of what they see and hear. So if these numbers are even close to being true, we effectively double the potential of our customers retaining what they experience in our presentations by using visual presentation media as we present our solutions.
As obvious as the idea may seem, it is failure to recognize the objective of retention and its significance that cause so many PowerPoint presentations to fail.
I read of a fascinating experiment conducted by a major university. They invited a group of students to witness three presentations, each conducted with the use of PowerPoint and LED projection. The students were to judge the presentations.
- The first presenter used all the capabilities PowerPoint had to offer. Each slide used spectacular transitions, color, graphics, animations, sounds, and was loaded with incredible amounts of information. It was an amazing display of the state-of-the-art. If applause were the indicator, this presenter would be hard to beat as even a few students gave a standing ovation.
- The second presenter pared their presentation down to include a few transitions, less color and graphics, no animations or sound. They still used all of the available real estate on the slide and chose to fill it with more text. You could clearly see the disappointment in the audience. This presentation certainly didn’t meet the standards set by the first presenter, with significantly less applause and no standing ovation as evidence. Lots of info, but no sizzle.
- The third presenter used no transitions, color, graphics, animations or sounds. He simply used a white background with black block letters, and as few of those as he could. Besides an occasional snicker, all you heard from the audience was uncomfortable silence. Obviously this presenter either hadn’t explored all the features available through PowerPoint or was simply too lazy to use them. At the end of his presentation? Polite applause accompanied by a smattering of “boos.”
Here is the kicker: While the quality of the first presentation was voted superior by the audience, when tested for retention of the actual content, the audience remembered twice as much from the final presentation conducted with nothing but block letters on a white background as they did from the first presentation with graphics, colors and animation. That’s right. When tested for the objective of retention, the presentation voted “superior” failed miserably.
Remember, visual presentation media is meant to ensure that your audience remembers what you are saying. The challenge is vision is the most powerful sense. It takes up the most significant amount of brain processing power. Slides filled with graphics, animations, and words compete with the speaker and can override hearing, our second most powerful sense. And unfortunately, as fast as I can talk, you can read faster. So if you have multiple bullet points on a slide or graphics on a slide, nothing can stop a reader from reading the third bullet point while you are commenting on the first. Or nothing can stop a reader from going back and reading the first bullet point what you are commenting on the third. The power of vision is simply too strong. The result in either scenario is diminished potential of retention.
Take a look at your PowerPoint presentations. You may find that they are overloaded with so much information it would be impossible for anyone to retain it. Believe it or not, I would far rather see a few block letters on a white background than what I see in most presentations.
So if you want to focus on retention, here are a few rules:
- Keep your words and graphics to a minimum. The only thing appearing on a slide should be in support of the specific point you are speaking to at that moment.
- One singe graphic is fine, but no more. You dramatically increase the potential of retention when NOTHING competes with what is being said.
- Consistency. Backgrounds, fonts, font sizes and colors should remain the same from slide to slide. Every single time any of those things change, the vision and brain have to process that change. That’s brain processing power we want dedicated to retention.
- Keep the ability to blank your screen handy. If there are questions, or the conversation goes off-topic from what appears on the screen, you want nothing appearing that would compete with what is being spoken.
- Remember, your movement in the room can help control where your audience looks. When you want them focused on what you are saying, move away from your screen while maintaining eye contact so their attention is drawn to you and NOT your media. When you want them back to your presentation media, move back to the screen.