Experts already have deemed bullet points in presentations and speeches a big no-no, and rightly so. It's hard for your audience to concentrate both on a bullet point and what you're saying, so listeners aren't as likely to remember your information. And there's the fact that the brain remembers better with images, too. But neuroscience has just laid out another hugely compelling reason to ditch the little black dots for a good story.

Your brain on bullets

In his article on Buffer, Leo Widrich explains that, when you listen to a typical Powerpoint presentation with bullet points, Broca's area and Wernicke's area of the brain both activate. Both of these areas are associated with producing, processing and understanding language. So it's clear that audiences who get bullet points are trying to understand the content and meaning within those points.

But that's it. Those are pretty much the only parts of your noodle that bullet points buzz.

Now compare this to when you tell a story

Multiple research studies indicate that a finely crafted tale activates not only Broca's and Wernicke's areas, but virtually any other part of the brain that the listener would use if really experiencing the story. For example, listening to a story about a great breakfast might activate the parts of the brain that process taste and smell. And because emotional memories link to that sort of sensory information, your listener even could recall how good it felt when their awesome grandma put marshmallows and chocolate chips in their pancakes.

With all this going on, suddenly, your listener is far more mentally engaged. And because they're bringing their experiences into the processing, they're empathetic, too. You become much more relatable, and subsequently, have an easier time winning the listener's trust. All of those elements translate to the listener remembering more of what you say and having a better experience.

But these neuroscience facts are good for more than just speeches. As Widrich points out, understanding how a good story activates the brain can make your writing better, too. Anecdotes and quotes in an article or newsletter, for example, can make what you're saying come alive, as can injecting the text with some rich metaphors.

Does this mean there's never a place for bullet points? Of course not. They can make good sense for explaining a process or sharing some specific facts (e.g., statistics), for example, and if you're publishing online, they can cater to the tendency people have to scan what's on the screen. You just have to acknowledge the environment of the audience and the possible distractions or challenges they might have.

If you do tell a story, keep in mind, the brain really doesn't multitask well. Instead, it rapidly switches from task to task, and that takes a ton of energy, draining the listener fast. So don't try to impress with complexity. Just keep it simple. No matter what tale you're spinning, your audience will thank you for it.

Published on: Jul 18, 2017
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