Our most powerful memories are those that involve more than one sense, in fact our strongest memories often come to us in the shape of multiple sensations
I’ll always remember 2010 New Year’s Eve dinner in Andorra, my mum and my sister were visiting, it was snowing and the smell of food was coming out of the door of the restaurant Tarragona. The lamb was so soft, you could shred it with a spoon; the wine was strong, the kind that smells so good that you almost don’t have to drink it to know what it tastes like; the air was humid, with all the windows closed, but the temperature was perfect.
That’s an experience! When we experience something with all our senses we tend to get more engaged emotionally.
As experience designers, emotional engagement is what we’re after when we create experiences, small or big, we want our customers, our audience to be engaged with what we do. This applies to everything we do: apps, websites, branding, emails, and the main focus of this post, presentations. Presentations for anyone, internal or external, short or long, so long as we need to keep our audience engaged, to agree with us, to remember us and our presentation.
If emotional engagement is stronger when we use multiple senses, why are we presenting using mainly screens and speech? There are a whole lot of other senses we can activate during presentations!
My hypothesis is: we can create more powerful, engaging presentations if we use alternative materials. Power Point and friends (Keynote, Google Slides, etc.) are great tools, but they aren’t always the right tool. However, nowadays, every time we hear the word “presentation” we think “slides”. It’s been a long time now since preparing a presentation means creating a bunch of slides filled with bullet points of the message we want to convey. And more often than not, we adapt our speech to the slides, not the other way around. Presentations are so much more than slides! We’ve forgotten that presentations are all about the story.
Defining the medium shouldn’t be the first thing we do when we’re preparing a presentation; there’s an order to things. For example, when you’re planning dinner, you make the food before you put it on the plates. It should be the same with presentations: you create the story you’re going to tell before you create the presentation.
Slides are one of the easiest solution, I get it, but that doesn’t make it the ideal way to present all your ideas. And even if slides are the best solution, jumping straight into Power Point to plan a presentation creates limitations and distractions on the story you’re trying to tell.
So let’s start from the beginning. What makes a presentation successful? Carmine Gallo, a business communication expert, explains that “successful presentations are understandable, memorable and emotional”.
“Successful presentations are understandable, memorable and emotional”.
To ensure understandability he recommends using the “Twitter-friendly headline” technique, in which you must describe the key idea of your presentation in less than 140 characters. Through this technique you ensure that you know exactly what’s the message you want to convey and you help your audience understand the topic better.
To make your presentation memorable, to ensure that your audience remembers what you said, Gallo recommends using the rule of three. Due to the limited capacity of our short-term memory (we can process between 3 and 7 items at the same time), delivering content in groups of three items helps people remember better. If you have more than three key things you want to say, consider grouping ideas and presenting them in three chunks.
Another trick for making your presentation memorable is using alternative materials. It’s a fact that our brains remember better the information that is processed with more than one sense at a time. For example, when studying for a test we’re more likely to remember if we read out loud than if we do it in silence, simply because our brain creates auditory links as well as visual ones — i.e. you remember reading it and hearing yourself saying it*. By using multiple senses we create more sensory links and memories are more likely to be stronger. Additionally, using materials other than Power Point will make our presentation stand out from the rest, and our brains remember the more unusual information best.
When studying for a test we’re more likely to remember if we read out loud than if we do it in silence, simply because our brain creates auditory links as well as visual ones.
Finally, Gallo stresses that the emotional aspect of a presentation is what encourages people to take action. The most common, and one of the most powerful ways to gain emotional connection is through storytelling. Our brains are wired for stories, we’ve been telling them for thousands of years and they still remain the most powerful way to convey experiences. Stories allow us to feel connected to the characters and understand their pain and struggle. When combined with data, stories awake two different parts of the brain, the logical part that processes the data and the emotional part that tries to recreate the feelings and sensations of the character.
I propose that we help our audience relieve those sensations through multi-sensory presentations, that we think about the most effective medium to communicate our message, the one that creates the biggest impact and not the one that is the easiest, most common one.
In the next few posts I’ll talk about the importance of multi-sensory experiences in memory creation and different approaches to creative presentations. In the meantime, here’s a list of of presentation materials that you might find useful for your next presentation.
Props: Props help the speaker make a point concrete, have a stronger emotional impact, use effective metaphors, inject humour, focus the audience’s attention, and make the presentation memorable.
Scene setting: Creating a physical representation of the space that you’re talking about helps drive the conversation around the physicality of it. Additionally, it helps visualise different possibilities and secondary spaces that wouldn’t be seen in a bi-dimensional representation.
Physical presentation: Print your presentation, make it a board, use it to drive a conversation around your story, rather than just presenting your point of view. General views of a journey can help clients and teammates visualise easier what you’re talking about as well as reduce their fear to talk about their ideas and concerns.
Role playing: Telling a story through role playing allows the listeners to feel more engaged with the action. There’s a massive difference between hearing the summary of a conversation and hearing the conversation itself, or hearing the summary of a person’s thoughts and hearing the thought process as it happens together with the action. Role playing allows the story to be told with the voice of the characters in the story.
Any other ideas you can come up with: Does it make sense to dance it out? Make a song? As long as you can produce a good fidelity presentation and the materials that you’re using reinforce your message.
Thanks for reading! Please comment, and keep an eye open for the next post.