Why PowerPoint Isn't Enough

The brain does not pay attention to boring things. Once you understand this fundamental principle of human learning and retention and apply it, your presentations could become far more engaging. In an interview with me last year, John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and the author of Brain Rules, makes the case that "emotionally charged events" are more "robustly processed" by the brain and therefore more easily remembered. These events include anything that stirs one's emotions—anger, joy, surprise, or wonderment. Although master presenters turn slide shows into awe-inspiring presentations, they almost always add complementary, multisensory events designed to spark an emotional response among audience members. Before you prepare for your next presentation, consider the following three examples for ideas you can borrow.

Bring an expert on stage. During a recent food industry conference where I spoke about communication techniques, a woman approached me from the National Honey Board. She told me that there are 300 different types of honey, each with a unique flavor, depending on what type of blossoms the bees visit. Most people are familiar with clover honey, but there are many others including avocado, basswood, and macadamia. Who knew? Since many chefs are unfamiliar with all these varietals, the honey board PR team has discovered that the most effective way to communicate this to food industry audiences is to create a multisensory experience. The presentations include a real beekeeper decked out in full beekeeper attire as well as samples of fresh honeycomb to taste (the raw honey and the comb itself are edible). All of this serves to produce a memorable event for members of the audience. Only the bees are absent!

Pass around product samples. Although Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs is known for presentations that include photographs and images, he creates multisensory experiences as often as possible—experiences that go beyond his slide show. For example, in October 2008 when Apple introduced a line of aluminum MacBooks, Jobs paused the slide show presentation, instructed someone to turn up the lights and passed around lightweight aluminum computer frames to members of the audience. As he spoke about how Apple designers were able to carve a computer shell out of a single piece of aluminum, press, analysts, and customers had the extra sensory sensation of being able to see, touch, and hold the "unibody enclosure" that Jobs said were thinner, lighter, and more rugged than previous frames. After the announcement, one technology reporter wrote that Jobs called the new computers a "tour de force of engineering." The reporter concluded, "holding of one of these in your hands, it's tough to disagree." Jobs is a master of presenting ideas visually but he realizes when the sense of touch is more persuasive than the sense of sight.

Ask questions and incorporate questions immediately. PowerPoint design specialist Cliff Atkinson has no qualms veering off his slides for one of his most engaging techniques. Atkinson uses a tablet PC for his presentations. At certain points, he will ask a question of his audience, pause the presentation, and physically write the answers on his computer's desktop, projecting the screen for all to see. This not only gives his audience a break from slides, but stimulates a different part of their brain. I've noticed that people in his audience start taking more notes themselves during this digital Q&A format.

Remember, an effective presentation should inform, educate, and entertain. It's hard to do all three with slides alone, no matter how gorgeous they might look. Experiment with one of the techniques above. Your audience will likely remember more of what you're trying to convey.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE