My Top Ten Powerpoint Strategies

You may be wondering what cognitive policy is and how it can be made practical in the real world.  The introduction we’ve written does a nice job of defining it, but it may help to get concrete and see good cognitive policy in action.  So I’d like to share some of the underlying values, conceptual insights, and modes of understanding that shape a typical method for communication – the Powerpoint presentation.

When giving a presentation, I attempt to create a smooth stream of thought that carries viewers forward and takes them on a journey.  Here are my top ten powerpoint strategies to accomplish this:

  1. Start with a hook. On the initial slide, ask a provocative question to get people thinking.  Don’t give them enough to know what it means.  This way they will begin to anticipate the content before the speaking even starts.
  2. Simple is painless. Take the minimalist approach of a white background and as little text/images as you need to make your point.  Don’t throw buckets of facts at people.  You’ll only overwhelm them.
  3. Be provocative. Ask leading questions.  Take controversial stands. Declare things that are absurd, then reveal deeper truths behind them. You can provoke quite a lot of engagement this way.
  4. Tell stories. Be sure every single thing you say is a meaningful story.  Take viewers through a “who done it” and have them solve the mystery.  This is how learning has been done since the dawn of humanity.
  5. Create flow. Weave the stories together so that they naturally build on one another.  This will give your presentation a fluidity that is easy to follow.  It will also help viewers intuit where they are going before you get there.
  6. Take a pause. Every now and then show a slide that says “take a pause”, “let’s breathe for a sec”, or “a moment of zen”.  Express that we’ve just been through something big that warrants a moment for catching up and introspecting.
  7. Use pictures… lots of them. Let pictures carry the day.  They are worth more than a thousand words.  And sometimes are the only way to make your point.
  8. Words are pictures too. Color words and phrases differently on the slide.  Animate them one phrase at a time to create a dynamic flow on the slide.  Use the words as if they were pictures and increase their information value.
  9. Be bad to be good. Sometimes the best way to make a good slide is to show a bad one, then call it out.  Present a slide with WAY TOO MANY words or factoids.  Make a joke about it.  Mention how much you hate when people do what you just did.  This helps lighten the mood and draws emphasis to whatever you say next.
  10. End with a splash. Now that you’ve pulled them along, you’ll need to give them a destination they can continue to explore.  Invite them to take next steps on their own.  Encourage them to get right to work and change their world.  Create a crescendo and unleash it into a lively discussion.

These strategies are based on insights into human psychology and brain function.  They reflect key features of human thought like the fundamental role of storytelling for making sense of the world; the limited capacity of attention that must be respected in order to engage people’s brains in the dialogue; and the convergence of different sensory inputs (e.g. visual and auditory) for enhanced retention of the material.

These considerations build upon key insights into how the human mind works.  And they lead to more effective communication and contribute to changing people’s behavior as part of the learning process.  They also reinforce a set of values and priorities, including:

  • Empathy – Every strategy seeks to connect the speaker and audience in a shared experience;
  • Engagement – Emphasis is given to promoting interactions and encouraging participation;
  • Transparency – Teaching techniques are used to reveal the speakers thought process and role model it to facilitate learning;
  • Social Responsibility – Care is given to ensuring that learning does indeed happen;
  • Human Dignity – Students are treated as important people who deserve a quality experience.

All of these considerations – foundational insights into the human mind, attention to modes of understanding, and a set of moral principles – fall under the domain of cognitive policy, as contrasted with material policy.  They emphasize the psychological, neurological, and perceptual aspects of the policy and promote successful material outcomes when properly applied.

I hope this helps clarify what cognitive policy is and how it can increase your effectiveness at engaging your audience.

Update: For another angle on this, see what Seth Godin has to say about “How to Give A Really Bad Powerpoint“.

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Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.