As we’ve discussed before,
According to the WSJ, $250 million per day is wasted on bad, ineffectively designed PowerPoint Presentations. It still amazes us that companies continue to spend millions of dollars developing sales slicks, marketing campaigns, lead generation programs, etc., but the most utilized tool in their sales toolbox — PowerPoint Presentations — are still created by employees with zero message development and visual design training.
Think about this for a moment:
How many sales have you lost? How many initiatives have you championed that never got started? How many game changing ideas have you proposed that never had a chance because your poorly designed PowerPoint created a persuasion hurdle your sweet talking self couldn’t overcome?
The problem is
The human attention span is now a mere 8.5 seconds. You’ve probably heard that “humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.” 🤮🤮🤮 so keeping your audience engaged and focused on your message is basically impossible.
Since that report, numerous people have tried to track down the underlying research supporting the mindblowing stat.
In 2017, Patti Shank published a piece on the eLearning Institute website documenting her search for the Goldfish attention span stat. According to her article, the source (Statistic Brain) cites a 2008 study by Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder, and Mayer which explores the results of a web browsing study. The Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder, and Mayer study does not cite the listed statistics. An article in Policy Viz tracked a second source and also found no relevant data.
In fact, the research company WARC reported:
The Microsoft report was based on studying the brain activity of 112 people, but the headline was not derived from that research. It is sourced to a company called Statistic Brain. Upon visiting the site, it appears to be a research company. A chart with the fishy fact appears there. A reverse image search led to the source of the claim, a software manual called Building Information Modeling and Construction Management containing the chart which was sourced to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and US Library of Medicine. When asked, both denied any knowledge of research that supports it.
But let’s not stop there… here is a GREAT recap from a course at The University of Wisconsin at Madison, that unsuccessfully attempts to find the original research study. Take a few minutes to view the PDF… it’s absolutely astonishing to track the republication of the erroneous fact across major news outlets around the world. And the fact that we’re still seeing this “new fact” cited by presenters in 2022, well that just shows you how little research presenters do when it comes to sourcing facts. I mean, when’s the last time you used a 2015 statistic to make a point?
So, all is not lost, but attention deficit IS REAL.
When you look at scientifically verified human attention span research, the average person can focus their attention for about 20 minutes give or take depending on how enjoyable they find the task at hand. As expected, attention spans shorten when we are bored, confused, or frustrated with a task. That’s the good news. But the bad news is, you still need to carefully craft your presentation and supporting visual aids if you want them to remember your message, key support points and ultimately, agree to act on your recommendations. Just ask anyone in the teaching profession, moving knowledge from an audience’s working memory to their long-term memory is a major challenge.
Overcoming the challenge lies in leveraging Scientific Design Principles to:
Focusing Your Audience’s Attention
The average PowerPoint slide is often a jumbled mess of information lacking any visual framework to help the audience process what they’re seeing. Thus, it’s no surprise that eye tracking results from recent neuroscience studies suggest that both experts’ and non-experts’ attention was scattered when there was no effort to direct their eyes to key information.
Strategically planned animations are one way persuasive presenters focus the audiences’ attention. That same research found when the presentation included more movement, people were more likely to hold the information in their minds for longer (working memory) and remain less fatigued. This is important, given that the information they viewed during the study was highly complex and technical.
Lowering Your Audience’s Cognitive Workload
Delivering a persuasive pitch isn’t just about making slides look visually pleasing — a mistake far too many companies make. They spend thousands of dollars to have designers craft visually stunning slides, only to discover form inhibits function.
Properly designed slides leverage visual language to build mental pictures while simultaneously directing the audience to focus on the key information needed to persuade the audience to adopt the recommended action or idea.
There are many other scientific design principles to apply, but you get the idea.
Another key to lowering the cognitive workload is leveraging semantic memory to help your audience process your presentation easier and faster. For instance, you might choose to present your information in terms of a vacation, linking key phases of the customer buying cycle to key steps in taking a vacation. This helps your audience relate what you’re telling them to a known process, requiring less working memory to process thus resulting in better long-term information retention.
The problem is, most business presentations don’t follow any consistent semantic theme because slides are often created and shared amongst members of the sales team vs. developing a perfect pitch deck from which all presentations originate. Thus, instead of sticking to a single theme, they’ll activate different semantic networks, causing the audience to expend more mental effort to understand the information — increasing vs. decreasing the cognitive workload and impeding their ability to retain the information long-term.
Building Your Audience’s Precision Memory
Research shows that on average, after 48 hours, people will only remember 10 percent of your presentation. Hence, the persuasive presenter must determine what 10% needs memorization and then how to tilt the odds in the presenter’s favor.
To tilt the odds in your favor, your message must be:
Once your message passes these tests, leverage the scientific design principles mentioned above to help structure your perfect pitch presentation to effectively and efficiently move your audience from total lack of understanding through adoption and finally to willingness to act.
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