Planning Presentations With The Brain In Mind

Brain Off

Most association education, whether online or face-to-face, actually inhibits learning.

In a typical presentation, attendees sit and listen while presenters stand and deliver.

That is the sure sign of learning failure.

Lectures And Bicycles

I remember when I first learned to ride a bike.

My parents had given me my first bike complete with training wheels. After a couple of days of riding with the training wheels, I was ready to take them off. I wanted to ride my bike like my father did. I wanted to be a big boy.

My father took off the training wheels, held the bike steady and told me to pedal. He gave me a gentle push. He ran beside me and encouraged me with additional instructions. It took several attempts to balance without crashing.

I experienced a temporary sense of sensory overload while I was trying to steer, pedal, balance and listen to his instructions. Amazingly, I was able to process all that information into a new skill rather quickly.

My father did not sit down and review the history of bikes with me, discuss bicycle mechanics or the principles of balance before we started. Had I been required to sit and listen to my father’s lecture before ever attempting to ride a bike, I would have disconnected. I would have looked for something else to do.

The same situation applies to today’s presentations.

Making Meaningful Presentations

Our brains are meaning-driven. Meaning is more important than information.

Did you catch that last statement? Meaning is more important to our brains than information. The brain is a meaning driven machine.

We are constantly trying to find meaning in associations, connections, data and patterns. We are trying to make meaning out of the information that is being presented. We try to connect new information to past experiences and knowledge stored in our minds.

When we find a pattern that is meaningful to us, we add it to our perceptual map. If it connects to the knowledge already stored in our minds, we learn.

When we can make those connections, we get a sense of relief from the anxiety, confusion or stress that accompanies data, facts and figures. If we can’t connect it to past experiences, we feel a sense of confusion and are overwhelmed. We don’t understand.

And if we don’t get some time to think and process the information during the presentation, we become distracted and confused. If we have to sit and listen while the presenter stands and delivers for 30-, 60-, or 90-minutes, we lose the ability to learn.

Presenters that attempt to maintain an audience’s attention 100% of the time, in fact, hinder learning. They are counter-productive to their goal.

In order for us to really learn something, the brain has to go internal in order to make meaning from the information. We need time to stop listening, think and reflect on what is being said.

What are some ways a presenter can provide down-time during a presentation? How can associations provide time for thinking, processing and reflection during education programs?

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  1. Mati says:

    Well said – this applies to delivery of information in any format. If we don’t make it meaningful we are wasting our time and those we are attempting to impact. Think about the information we now have access to and consume on a daily basis. Information comes at us rapidly and from all directions and if we don’t take a moment as you said “We need time to stop listening, think and reflect on what is being said” otherwise we cannot process or apply the information we receive on a deeper level. When someone commits to attending an event the presenter is being given a special opportunity, all the more reason to create a meaningful presentation.

  2. Jeff, did you hear the NPR interview with memory champ and author of Moonwalking with Einstein this morning? This post reminded me of what he said about spatial memory. We remember things better when they are in a place — when they make sense in the pattern of our experience, or, as you say, take on meaning.
    One way a presenter can help is asking attendees to write a note to themselves about who they want to share this information with — that nudges them toward finding meaing by encouraging them to think about where in their lives this new knowledge fits.

  3. Roger says:

    Its in the area of Show me Don’t TELL me. This is easy to see in a presenter. They will start from their point of you setting the picture and framework. By the time you have finished this part of the presentation you have lost them.

    Show them (not a demo)show them the problem in its broadest sense, then how you can help them with a solution..

    This makes them work with you to develop their challenge to your method.. at then conclusion they will have an understanding.

  4. Sometimes rhetorical questions like …. Have you ever….? Or think about the last time you……
    Or tell the person on your left….
    Roll plays can be helpful and can help incorporate learning
    A simple show of hands if you have….
    I love the bike analogy Jeff …. Really illustrates learn by doing

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Good point that this applies to delivery of information in any format.

      I like your gentle reminder: “When someone commits to attending an even,t the presenter is being given a special opportunity, all the more reason to create a meaningful presentation.” That’s a powerful statement that I think we presenters often forget! Thanks for reminding us of it.

      Fantastic tip to add to the conversation: ask attendees to write a note about who they want to share the information with. That helps nudge them into a conversation.

      Yes, semantic memory works best if we can recreate the environment in which it was first learned. That’s why sights and smells are powerful triggers to or memories.

      Thank you as always for reading and adding more color to this conversation. Love it!

      Great point, “Show me, don’t tell me!” Such a simple phrase but often forgotten!
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Thank you for adding those questions that can help attendees think about the content and remember it. You’ve proven that it does not have to be complicated or difficult. Even simple questions can be the hook to get people thinking.

      As always, thanks for reading and adding some great tips!

  5. […] Are attendees given the time to make meaning from the content? […]

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