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Trainer’s tip: how to deliver brain-friendly presentations


Presentations often have an outcome and being aware of this outcome and ensuring you reach it is important. Amy Brann looks at a few things you should be aware of to make this easier.

Identity is powerful

If you want your audience to do something at any point (which keeps them engaged, so is a good idea) then ensuring you are mindful of the identity you are facilitating them to step into is important. For example, an experiment was done to measure the brain activity of two groups of women. One group was told that there is a stereotype of women struggling with maths. They were then repeatedly tested and reminded of their inferiority.

The other group weren’t told of the stereotype and also repeatedly tested. Needless to say the two groups activated very different regions of their brains and the bottom line is that the negative identity one group took on negatively impacted their performance.

"Keeping an audience up the whole time is hard work because we’re not designed to do that and means that they will come down at some later point."

Time and time again presenters fail to plan and create for their audience the identity that will most serve them. Avoid falling into this trap by thinking carefully about who your audience needs to be to get the most out of your presentation.

People create answers

If you’ve ever asked your audience anything during a presentation you may have been surprised at the response. In 1997, Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson were surprised. In their paper, "Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes",  they shared some considered experiments which required people to do things and then say what they did.

In one famous study they lined up pairs of stockings on a table and asked women to examine them and choose which they liked best. The women were then questioned, and this is where it gets interesting. The stockings were actually identical but the women had come up with all sorts of wonderful reasons why they preferred the texture or sheereness or tone of the stockings. If this happens with stockings imagine what could be going on when you do a presentation.

What goes up must come down

Some presenters want their audience to be happy the whole time. This makes sense on some levels. We know that happier people tend to buy more for example. Unfortunately though, keeping an audience up the whole time is hard work because we’re not designed to do that and means that they will come down at some later point.

Loretta Graziano Breuning gives us a great insight into the four chemicals we need to look out for. Endorphins enable us to keep going and we do feel really great when we have lots of endorphins circulating in us. So the key is to plan when you need the audience to be endorphin rich, and when it would be okay for them to not be.

Dopamine can become exhausting when it keeps flowing, so you only want to promote this at times during your presentation when you really need people to stay with you and keep going. It’s pretty safe for oxytocin to be present during your presentations if you want the audience to bond with you and with the other listeners. There are lots of icebreaker type activities, which raise oxytocin levels.

Finally serotonin is a very tricky one to plan for. This one is best to let rise and fall on an individual basis throughout your presentation because people will self-regulate based on feedback coming in from around them. Too much serotonin will make people feel safe all the time, and while this is good when you want the audience to be decisive, it’s not so good for building connections.

So there are just three brain friendly tips for presentations. There are so many more and I encourage you to get curious about the brain and what knowledge of it can do for you and the people you serve.

Amy Brann is the head researcher at the training company Synaptic Potential. She is passionate about helping professionals achieve more by understanding how their brain and mind actually works. Keep in touch with Amy on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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