Well, just let me give you an example of really how bad your working memory is, and mine, for that case. I want you to imagine this situation. You’re at the train station, waiting for the train. You can see it coming on the horizon. You’re fiddling away, finally, find where you put your ticket. You take it out and you go, car five, seat 42, got it. Have you? You have absolutely no idea where you’re going to sit, do you? Feel like, is this seat me, or, I’ll check, five, 42, you put it down again. Have you got it? No, you haven’t got it, you’ll do this on an average of six times before you sit down. I’ve seen people in the train go: Five, 42, five, 42, yes, this is my seat, check.
Now the bad news in the situation is this, you do not have a separate working memory for PowerPoint and a separate working memory for train tickets. It’s the same dismally bad working memory for both activities. So I might be harsh when I say this, but there is one man on this earth who knows more about the brain than anybody else, one of the most leading neurologists, called John Medina, and he puts it like this… and it’s with his words that I welcome you to How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint.
Now my objective for this evening, for these 18 minutes, is to give you five design principles that will cognitively and psychologically optimize your PowerPoint slides. And if you haven’t used them before, they will make a tremendous difference to every PowerPoint you’ll be delivering from this day and on. So let’s start.
The first one of these five is one message. I received this from a customer, and I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of issues in here, but let’s start with the first one’. You got two messages. Let’s move one of them out of the way, and just bring one message per slide. So, why should we only have one message per slide? Well, I’ll give you this beautiful example. You’re at this nice party, you got the music going boom-boom, you got this person you’re chatting away to, you’re having a good time, chat-chat-cha-cha-cha. And then you hear your name, you hear your name spoken somewhere, your entire attention is now diverted in that direction, and with this person you’re just nodding away, hoping that you’re nodding in the right instances, yeah? Yes, yes, yes.
After about a minute, this one stops talking about you, so you divert your attention straight again. Now, that person will then say, ‘Well, don’t you agree’? And don’t we just love that situation? We have got no clue what they’ve been talking about. The same thing goes for PowerPoint, if you’ve got more than one message, the chance is big that they will be focusing on this one and that one, or that one and not this one. Just make it simple for human beings. Have one message per slide. We are extremely limited to understanding more.
Let’s move on, go to working memory. I’ve already given you this bad vibe that your working memory is bad, and I’m afraid I’m not coming with better news. I’m coming with worse news, and it goes like this. This equation has the basis of John Sweller and Mayer, and they come to the conclusion that there is something in our brain called the redundancy effect, and it works like this. If you have text, sentences on your PowerPoint, and you persist with the annoying idea of speaking at the same time, what will be remembered by the audience is zero. Or very close to zero.
Now, why is that, how does that come about? Well, it can’t look like this, it’s just not practical. You can’t stand and have this and talk at the same time, so what are you supposed to do? Well, use PowerPoint for what it’s supposed to be used for, pick it like this, pull down your text into the documentation field and use the area up there for the presentation material, short, sweet bits of text and an image. That is what enhances your image. That is what enhances your message. So use PowerPoint as it’s supposed to be used.
Come to the third of these five principles, and that’s size. Before we go into that, I want to make you aware of something, and that is the following. Every time that you open your eyes for the rest of your life, you will focus on four things: moving objects, signalling colors, like red, orange, and yellow, contrast-rich objects, and big objects for the rest of your life. Give you a practical example of that. Imagine yourself being home with a friend, a really good friend. Now, the television is on, but the sound is off. You’re having a great conversation, but do you find it easy to not look at the television? No. Why not? Because it’s got moving objects, it’s got signalling colors, it’s high in contrast, and they’re usually very big these times. So, why not use this to our benefit?