Are your slides working for you or against you?
by Dominic Wells
Twenty years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a job description that did not demand, that as a valuable future employee you must be “a good multitasker”. As such we spent the next twenty years convincing ourselves and our employers that balancing a number of cognitive functions at any one time was a breeze.
Of course it wasn’t a breeze and recent neurological research counters the multitasking myth, even suggesting the concept is a human delusion. Earl Miller a neuroscientist and professor at MIT university explains “”Think about writing an e-mail and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time,” he said.
“You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks,” Miller said. “They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them.
Which brings us to a common challenge that we all face when presenting with slides. When we place information (especially words) on a slide and then talk to that slide we are asking our audience to do the impossible, to read and listen at the same time. Should the audience listen to your well-crafted engaging words or should they read your well-crafted creative slide? You probably need to decide because they can’t do both.
Changing the traditional approach to slide design provides a solution to this dilemma, high impact slides with minimal words and resonant graphics will allow your audience to glance at the screen, get the message and then fully engage with you the presenter. In essence compartmentalizing the two cognitive functions of reading and listening.
So the next time you prepare a key presentation think carefully about what you put on your slides. Your content may be great and you may be a great presenter, but if your slides are complex, need explaining and contain multiple sentences per slide the chances are you are creating a cognitive Mission Impossible.