The Science Behind Good Presentations

We know that cluttered present­a­tions and those with para­graphs of text per slide aren’t good and that the 10/20/30 rule is a guideline gen­er­ally worth adher­ing to, but why? Could there be a sci­entif­ic basis for why some present­a­tions are bet­ter than oth­ers?

Chris Ather­ton, an applied cog­nit­ive psy­cho­lo­gist at the UK’s Uni­ver­sity of Cent­ral Lan­cashire, stud­ied the influ­ence of dif­fer­ent present­a­tion styles on learn­ing and reten­tion by con­duct­ing the fol­low­ing exper­i­ment:

Stu­dents were ran­domly assigned to two groups. One group atten­ded a present­a­tion with tra­di­tion­al bul­let-point slides (with the occa­sion­al dia­gram) and the second group atten­ded a present­a­tion with what Chris calls “sparse slides”, which con­tained the same dia­grams, but min­im­ized the amount of text, and broke up the inform­a­tion over sev­er­al dif­fer­ent slides. Both present­a­tions were accom­pan­ied by the same spoken nar­rat­ive.

When both groups were later tested on the present­a­tion’s themes, it was the group shown the sparse slides that per­formed “much bet­ter”. Ather­ton sug­gests that well-designed present­a­tions are super­i­or teach­ing tools and improve recall and learn­ing for a num­ber of reas­ons:

  • The lim­it­a­tions of work­ing memory: even the stu­dents who did well in recall­ing themes, remembered only 6–7 themes out of a pos­sible 30.
  • The visu­al and aud­it­ory cor­texes are not being used as effect­ively as they could: the cluttered slides over­load the aud­it­ory cor­tex as it is used for writ­ten and spoken lan­guage pro­cessing.
  • Extraneous cog­nit­ive load is min­im­ised: the sparse slides may min­im­ise extraneous cog­nit­ive load by cre­at­ing few­er com­pet­ing demands on atten­tion
  • Bet­ter encod­ing of inform­a­tion (into memory): hav­ing to work a little bit harder to integ­rate the speak­er­’s nar­rat­ive with the pic­tures might actu­ally improve our stor­age of the inform­a­tion (up to a point).

via @finiteattention