Typical PowerPoint bad for brains

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It’s not rocket science.

It turns out there’s a scientific explanation for why we don’t remember much from a bad PowerPoint presentation.

Scientists studying "cognitive load theory" at the University of New South Wales in Australia have published a report that has shaken up the way the world looks at presentations and learning.

Their research suggests the human brain is good at reading, good at listening, but not very good at doing both simultaneously.

Presenting someone with the same information verbally and visually (e.g. reading from a bad PowerPoint slide) makes absorbing the information much more difficult. Our brains can only take in and remember so much at once.

Professor Sweller, a researcher in the study, said, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form.”

He has a good point. Public speakers have been putting audiences to sleep with PowerPoint for years, but that doesn’t mean we should ditch the application all together. After all, it isn’t fair to blame the tool for the craftsman's mistakes.

Don't make 'em choose.

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Effective presentations never make life harder on an audience.

Professor Sweller offers good advice when he recommends we speak to diagrams instead of bullet points, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Keep the text on your slides to a minimum, phrases that only take a few seconds to read. Instead of bullet points, use diagrams and images as the backdrop to your story. When you’re presenting a longer quote, don’t be afraid to stand silently while the audience reads the quote for themselves.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is this: Never force your audience to choose between listening to what you say or reading the text on your slides. You can’t expect them to do both, and you might not like what they choose.

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