My client needed help, and she needed it fast. "Please tell me how to improve this presentation," she asked. "The CEO is planning to share this next week at the employee town hall meeting."

She opened a folder and pulled out a thick printout of a PowerPoint deck. It was a car-wreck moment for me: I didn't want to look, but I had to. And the reality was worse than I feared: There were 55--count 'em, 55--slides.

I took a closer look. Every slide was chock-full of charts, graphs and data. Nine separate topics were covered. Large quantities of data were reported. There was no story, just thousands of facts.

What advice did I give my client? To use science to prevent the CEO from making a very big mistake.

Start by understanding the way the brain works when processing information. All the input you receive (through your senses) enters a kind of holding area called short-term memory.

A definition: "Short-term memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data."

Here are two important facts about short-term memory:

  • Capacity is very limited--to fewer than 7 items.
  • The time information stays in short-term memory is very short--fewer than 15 seconds.

That means that everything you present enters the short-term memory of audience members. And here's the most crucial part of all: If the information just sits there, inert, it will quickly leave short-term memory and be gone forever.

So if you want to make an impression, what should you do differently? Science says these 3 simple things:

  1. Reduce information. It's an inverse ratio: The more facts you stuff into your presentation, the more likely audience members will not remember anything.
  2. Shape a story. By telling stories that engage audience members and appeal to their emotions, information becomes stickier and more memorable.
  3. Invite participation. Brain experts know that retention is much more likely to occur when people "work with" information. In a presentation, that can mean giving audience members a chance to ask questions. Or facilitating a breakout session where they solve a problem related to the topic at hand.

Ready to improve your next presentation? Think about how brain works to create a compelling experience.

 

Published on: Jun 17, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.