Whenever possible the brain operates on autopilot.
That’s why for example you can fold laundry while having a conversation. Your brain goes on autopilot to fold clothes so you can focus your thinking on the conversation.
When you do something over and over again, your brain picks up the pattern and reverts to autopilot. This impacts the traditional conference lecture. We’ve been to so many lectures that the brain coasts on cruise control.
The Challenge With Most Conference Presentations
Too many conference presentations cause our brain to go on autopilot.
Presenters spend all their time creating a concise, linear and easily digestible presentation. They make their presentation very direct to prove their point.
The belief is that the learner can focus on memorizing the content instead of trying to understand or make sense of it. The presenter tries to provide everything the attendee will need to know resulting in an information dump.
By trying to create the quickest, easiest path to a specific learning outcome, the presenter actually creates a barrier to learning.
Unfortunately, the presenter’s rational and coherent information dump causes the brain to coast on cruise control.
Brain Strain For Brain Gain
The human brain strives to find the easiest, quickest and most intuitive answer. It wants to use as little cognitive effort as possible.
A presenter that adds a little brain strain to their presentation creates a more successful learning event. Asking the attendee to wrestle with a problem first, before giving them the answer, results in better memory and retention for the attendee.
A little confusion actually pushes us to think about something. And ultimately learn.
According to Dash and Thomson, when the brain becomes confused, the brain releases dopamine. The uncertainty mixed with the dopamine causes the brain to focus and pay attention.
By adding an element of cognitive strain, attendees apply greater efforts in trying to understand or solve a problem. They also focus more on making sense of the information and what it means to them personally or professionally.
One Way To Provide Positive Cognitive Strain For Learning
Here’s one way presenters can mix up their presentation and engage the audience’s brain.
Presenters should identify two to four places within their presentation to allow for audience discussions. By audience discussions, I mean allowing the audience to pair up or discuss in groups of threes, not one person answering the question for the entire audience.
Then the presenter should frame the discussion around previously discussed content and set it within a context that has not been discussed yet. That’s an important point not to miss…using past information within a context that has yet to be discussed.
The unknown content actually slows down the brain and keeps it from jumping to an easy answer or relying on automatic intuition. It also sets up an introduction to the next point being made by the presenter.
When the audience wrestles with the problem and thinks through options, they are actually engaging the brain while learning the information. Then the presenter can share insights which either correct or affirm the participant’s thoughts.
What are some other ways to create cognitive confusion during presentations that lead to learning? If you’re planning a two- or three-day event, why would you want to increase the mental strain at the beginning of the event and decrease it towards the end of the event?