Never Ask Your Audience to Multi-task

The traffic monitors in Abu Dhabi were stunned. For three days in October car accidents dropped by an astonishing 40%, after which things went back to normal. The traffic monitors soon realized what had happened. On October 10, 11 and 12 BlackBerries all over the world suffered an outage due to a core switch failure. Without their BlackBerries the drivers in Abu Dhabi became dramatically more safe.

Time Magazine 31 October 2011

It proves that the human brain is not wired to multi-task. David Rock, in his book “How the Brain Works”, states: “.. even the brain of a Harvard graduate can be turned into that of an eight-year-old simply by being made to do two things at once.”

Presenters often don’t realize this when they use PowerPoint. They happily throw up slides with words and data and then talk over them. Audiences get lost trying to sync the audio of the presenter with the video of the slide. The result? Death by PowerPoint.

Many presenters subscribe to the idea that two inputs are better than one. This is nonsense. It is the equivalent of going to a Harry Potter movie and reading the book at the same time.

Sequential dissemination of information is an incredibly important concept in PowerPoint meaning you must introduce ideas one at a time. The best way to introduce an idea or a concept? Talk about it first, then show it. In order to do so you must know which slide is coming next. Having notes handy that tell you what is going to come is the best way forward. You should refer to your notes and once the slide is properly introduced you can add the visual aide. In other words: Tell & Show, not Show & Tell.

One more tip: having your notes on a piece of paper is preferable because that way technology will not fail you. It happens more often than you think, just ask the world’s BlackBerry users.

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About Case

Managing Director at Black Isle Group Asia, helping executives stand out when they speak.
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