don't overwhelm your audience

What NOT to do! Don’t cause cognitive overload in your audience!

Australian research lead by Professor John Sweller at the University of NSW has uncovered a theory known as the “cognitive load theory”. It suggests that the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either verbal or written formats, not both (SMH Patty 2007).

“The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster,” Professor Sweller said. “It should be ditched.”

Further, he suggests that diagrams can be useful, but it is not effective to say the same words that are written on the slides because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases the audience’s ability to fully comprehend what is being presented.

What should you do instead?

If you have graphs, diagrams, bullet points or words on your slides, it is important to understand Sweller’s theory of cognitive load and help your audience to process what you’re saying with calm and ease.

To avoid cognitive load or what I call ‘split attention’, ensure the audience is clear about what they shoud be looking at from one moment to the next. They should know whether they are supposed to looking at you (as you ‘claim your space’ and engage them from the middle of your stage with the screen blanked out or just a simple evocative image on the screen behind you with no or few words.) Or, you give permission to the audience to look at the screen (as you stand out of the way and allow them time to read the slide). If you’re doing this, it’s a nice idea to out your hand up and gesture towards the screen so the audience is 100% sure they should be looking at the screen. You might even like to use your words too, “if you look at the chart on the screen, you’ll see….”

An added bonus of doing this with your movement and slides is that you will appear very professional as you gracefully move from one space to another and draw their attention from one thing to another.

In summary, when using slides, the audience is either looking at you as you stand in the middle with a blanked screen or just an image behind you, or they are looking at your slides while you are out of the way.

Give this a try the next time you speak in public and notice the massive difference in people’s attention.

Happy Presenting!

© Michelle Bowden 2021.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile (a world-first psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.

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