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How Your Audience's Brain Works

Three new findings in brain research could help you present information better and keep your listeners engaged

Your brain has a tendency to tune out after 10 minutes, ignore "boring" subjects, and require a lot of pictures to retain information. Those are three of the discoveries detailed in John Medina's new book, Brain Rules. I recently spoke to Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and teacher at the University of Washington School of Medicine to get a sense of how business leaders can apply his findings when making presentations to audiences large and small.

1. The brain tunes out after 10 minutes. Your audience might be with you at "Hello," but in most cases, listeners stop paying attention within 10 minutes. Since Medina began teaching in 1993, he has continually asked his students: "Given a class of medium interest, not too boring and not too exciting, when do you start glancing at the clock, wondering when the class will be over?" The answer is always 10 minutes. According to Medina, peer-reviewed studies confirm his observation. "Before the first quarter-hour is over in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out," says Medina.