In 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, Susan Weinschenk outlines many behavioural triggers and barriers in the context of successful presentations, covering how people think and learn, how to get attention, how to motivate, how people listen and see, how they react to the environment, how they react emotionally, and how they decide to take action. The book is a useful summary of many of the behavioural quirks we have written about here. Most especially, the different behaviours that the author highlights fall into the five themes outlined in TapestryWorks’ SNAPP thinking framework which we find a useful way to simplify human behaviour and decision-making into broad themes.Keep it SIMPLE
The first theme is simplicity, and Susan Weinschenk highlights a number of behavioural traits that relate to simplicity in communication.
The first is that people process information in bite-sized chunks. Although the brain has huge information processing capacity, most of that capacity is non-conscious and non-verbal. A common mistake in presentations (especially those in market research) is to give too much information and overwhelm the minds of your audience. Therefore, only show one piece of information at a time and use progressive disclosure (that is, only showing the information that people need at that moment) to help your audience more easily understand.
Related to the idea of chunking, it is well known that we have limited memory, generally considered to be for a maximum of four items at once (not seven, as in the famous paper by George Miller). One of the strategies that we all use to help our limited memories is “chunking”, breaking up larger pieces of information (like phone numbers) into smaller bite-sized chunks. This rule works for memory retrieval too, recalling items from long-term memory. Here the optimum number is three (the magic of “three”), as recall of items from a category tends to drop when there are four or more but is quite good for three or less (around 80% recall).
The author also points out that making things hard to read, also makes them hard to do, as we read text through the brain’s skill at pattern recognition. However, this skill at pattern recognition has to work harder when fonts are more decorative and less readable, so such fonts are great for highlighting points or adding interest, but will slow down your audience. Also remember that research has shown that fonts that are harder to read are associated with tasks that are harder to do, they take longer to complete and their meaning is more likely to be lost. These rules don’t apply to standard serif and sans-serif fonts where there is no difference in comprehension or reading speed (according to the research that has been done to compare them).
Follow the NORMS
The second theme is the importance of social and cultural norms and context is, of course, important in communication too.
Culture and language affect how people think and how they respond to information and pictures. For example, Western cultures tend to focus on a main or dominant object in the foreground of pictures, whereas Asian cultures pat more attention to the background and the environment surrounding the objects (perhaps the difference between individualistic and group thinking).
As Susan Weinschenk points out, people’s behaviour can be “shaped” y the behaviour of those around them including you as a presenter. If you’re smiling, then your audience will find it difficult not to smile themselves, and you can reinforce the behaviours you want and discourage those you don’t want just through how you nudge them and react to others. Sometimes, it helps to proceed in small steps, by encouraging successfully closer approximations to the desired behaviours and reinforcing them.
The final norm that the author describes is the importance of what you wear. People are more likely to follow someone in a suit across a busy road than someone in a work shirt and trousers (according to one study, three and half times more likely!). You can decide to dress for similarity when you want to be seen as similar to the audience and part of a team, or you can dress for authority by wearing clothes one notch about your audience to gain respect.
Make your ideas AVAILABLE
A key rule of all branding and marketing is to make yourself “top of mind”, Mental availability combines with physical availability to make successful brands.
The same rules apply to communication, and Susan Weinschenk discusses the important difference between recognition and recall in the context of getting your message across. Recognition is always easier than recall, and makes use of context, helping us to remember. When presenting, always assume that your audience has a poor memory – this is not to do them a disservice, but rather to make sure that you repeat important ideas, provide other means of remembering (e.g., handouts) and support ideas though multiple media (i.e. use a combination of pictures and words that communicate the same idea).
One thing that always gets attention and increases an audience’s desire are objects or information that is scarce. Scarcity makes people believe that something is more valuable and more desirable, and that works for information as well as goods. Therefore, highlight the information in your presentation which is not available elsewhere and exclusive to you. Your audience will value it more highly.
Make it PERSONAL
We all like to keep a consistent persona and we become more involved in anything as soon as we feel some sense of “ownership”.
We like to keep a consistent and harmonious narrative of our lives and our values, although the reality is that we are often less consistent than we would like to believe. Consistency is a great motivator, and if you can get your audience to identify with a real story or something that touches them personally, they are much more likely to follow through with any action (as well as to remember it).
Similarly, if we feel a sense of ownership or involvement, we are more likely to take a next step. Susan Weinschenk points out that even if we say no the first time, we are more likely to say yes the next time. Concessions can build commitment, so if you shock someone by asking for a large donation of $1,000 and then concede that they could also give just $200, then there’s a good chance that they may agree to the second request (a tactic sometimes called “rejection then retreat”). For this to work best, your first offer should be beyond a normally accepted request, but still reasonable (not outrageous), followed by a second offer that is considered fair.
The power of the sense of ownership also applies if something is physically in front of us, so always display a product if it is relevant to your message, and ideally get people to touch it. Also remember that people are more motivated as they get closer to a desired goal, so give the illusion of progress in any activity, and even in a short presentation you can make the audience aware of where you are by providing clues about your progress and marking key points along the way.
Create a PATTERN
The brain is always looking for patterns, so use them in your presentation to communicate key messages and to create engagement and attention.
One pattern that we all seek is story, and story is always the most effective way to communicate and remember information. Stories imply causation, even where none exists, and this is critical to the brain’s pattern detection to help it understand cause and effect. Always use stories to make facts and ideas more interesting and memorable.
Other patterns can be created by engaging multiple senses (see above under ‘Available’) and the more you can use different formats and senses (visuals, sound effects or music, touch as in “Personal” above) the more you will make your presentation impactful and memorable. This is especially true if you can boost effectiveness by sending a message through multiple channels, but beware that the channels compete, so if you want someone to read something keep quiet, as they won’t be able to listen at the same time.
It’s worth putting your presentation together first without slides or words or pictures and just imagining it as a series of points or ideas in sequence. That way, you will be able to decide whether visuals or other media will enhance any of you ideas.
In summary, if you want to make the most effective presentations be aware of the behaviours of your audience, and design your message to maximise impact through the science of attention, memory, and behaviour. There are five key principles that you can use:
- Keep it SIMPLE
- Follow the NORMS
- Make your ideas AVAILABLE
- Make it PERSONAL
- Create a PATTERN
Use SNAPP thinking to make your presentations even more successful.
“Making SNAPP Decisions: A framework for applying “fast” thinking” by TapestryWorks
100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People by Susan Weinschenk