By Nick de Cent
Who would have thought that the humble business presentation would become mainstream news around the world?
But that’s just what’s happened thanks to a new Australian study. At last, scientific research confirms what long-suffering audiences already knew and presentations experts have been trying to tell us: the standard way PowerPoint is used can kill a presentation stone dead.
Academics from Australia’s University of New South Wales have revealed that the far-too-common practice of repeating your spoken presentation with the same words as bullet points on-screen actually makes it harder for the audience to learn and retain the information. Since PowerPoint is typically used in this way, the "use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster," says Professor John Sweller, an education professor at the university.
The researchers found that the human brain processes information better when presented in verbal or printed form but not when delivered in both forms at the same time. Presenters who use a list of bullet points on a slide and then go through them verbally, would actually be better off if the audience ignored either the slide or the talk.
Professor Sweller developed his so-called cognitive load theory in the 1980s. It suggests that people learn best when the strain on their working memory—a collective term for the processes that temporarily store and manipulate information—is minimised. This allows the audience to move information from their working memory into long-term memory. When cognitive load (the load on working memory) is too high, learning is more difficult.
Professor Sweller adds that a visual aid such as a chart is not the same kind of load, and that this is actually the best way to use PowerPoint. "It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form," Sweller says.
This is exactly the same advice that Nicholas Oulton from UK presentations specialists M62 offered www.ModernSelling.com readers recently in his article ‘"Top 10 Tips for Creating the Perfect Sales Presentation."
Professor Sweller concludes: "It is not effective to speak the same
words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind
and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."
US experts agree that the current way that PowerPoint is used has now had its day. "I think we’re seeing a very clear trend," says Adobe Systems senior product marketing manager David Slater in Sales & Marketing Management. "There’s a strong, growing intolerance for PowerPoint presentations with the old twelve-point font, the cheesy transitions, the car screech as a bullet comes across the street. You’re really viewed negatively if you use that stuff."
President of US-based Better Business Presentations, Bob Lipp agrees: "Future presentations will become more interactive." He claims presentations are shifting from monologues to dialogues, with a boost from Flash animation, special effects and video.
Nick de Cent is the editor of www.ModernSelling.com, which features sales news, sales advice and sales jobs.