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Category Archives: Presentations

Put Brain Science To Work & Make Your Next Presentation Your Best Presentation.

Focused attention is today’s greatest commodity and brain science teaches us a brilliant way to harness it.

When you observe people watching a presentation, do you notice how some periodically check their cellphone? They might believe that they are master multi-taskers who can simultaneously listen and read, but this is a fallacy.

Why? The brain is a sequential processor, and can only fully focus on one thing at a time.*

In a world where everyone is expected to juggle each facet of their life simultaneously, our limited ability as people is overlooked. While technology has changed the way we handle almost every task in our daily lives, allowing us to do more, we are still human and must give our undivided attention to something in order to fully grasp the information.

Whether you’re on the executive management team sharing ideas that need to gain company-wide traction or a sales executive whose entire job rests on connecting with others to boost business, you rely on presentations to convey your message. Great presentations can inspire people to consider new ideas or your company’s product/solution. In the end, this is especially the goal of all salespeople; to move companies and people into action.


Many of us learned how to present from watching others. If you had great role models or training, chances are your presentations are good.

Or maybe you had the misfortune of learning by watching your colleagues use PowerPoint as a teleprompter so they could remember what to say next. If you fall into the latter group, this is for you.

Brain science reveals how to deliver compelling presentations that help your ideas, complex products, or services capture the attention of your audience. The best presenters make you forget that it’s a formal event. They have a conversational tone that effortlessly keeps you engaged. It makes you want to listen, not feel like you have to.

We gathered some brain facts from Dr. John Medina, Developmental Molecular Biologist, who authored a book back in 2008 called Brain Rules. Highlighted below are a few tips you can use right now to turn your next presentation into your best presentation.


Listening to an inventory of facts during a presentation is boring and does little to captivate people. No matter your topic, your goal should be to tell your audience a story. This is how the brain is hardwired to receive information, so if you can utilize this approach, your delivery will be far more impactful.

Until robots take over the world and sell to each other, we need to remember that humans are emotional beings. Combining the information with emotion is more moving and memorable than simply laying out the facts one by one.

One way we found to take dense, complicated content and make it more engaging is by using a storytelling matrix we created years ago to develop sales presentations for one of our healthcare clients. Now we use it all the time.

We place the audience at the center of the storyline, talk about the obstacles they’re grappling with, and show how our client’s products or services solve their particular challenges. This method forces you to create presentations that are all about your colleagues, clients or prospects.

If you want to learn more about the merits of storytelling, read Paul J. Zak’s article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling


Keep the slides simple and free of clutter so the audience can visually grasp the concept in a just few seconds. Remember, people cannot read and listen to you at the same time.

When your slides display data, words, and images, it forces the brain to absorb and process lots of information at once. Force-feeding a ton of facts leads to mental fatigue and a desire to do something easier, like checking the cellphone.

A way to remediate this issue is by first reviewing or reading what you’re visually showing the audience and then emphasizing your point if needed.


Dr. Medina enlightened us about the importance of the 10-minute rule. Essentially, our attention span is short. At each ten-minute interval, you need to do something to buy the audience’s attention for another ten minutes.

Review your presentation to see if at the ten-minute mark you can switch things up by sharing a relevant story or video.


Skilled presenters speak so effortlessly that it is easy to forget how much work goes into presenting.

Think of Steve Jobs. It is rumored that he practiced upwards of 80 hours in advance of delivering his legendary presentations. To sound natural takes practice and lots of it.

However, if you struggle to memorize your presentation, you are not alone! You’ll be glad to learn about a memory enhancement technique called the Memory Palace (Simonides’ method of Loci).

The general premise of the Loci method is to convert what you need to remember into outrageous visual images and associate them with a space you are familiar with, like your home or office. When you mentally walk through your memory space, you will recall the images you need to remember.

If you hear a piece of information, you’ll remember 10% three days later. Add a picture, and you’ll remember 65% of it.   Brain Rules

An entire book, Moonwalking With EinsteinThe Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Jason Foer, is dedicated to teaching this method. It demonstrates how to memorize anything from a person’s name to a lengthy presentation.

If you use this technique, you will experience firsthand how visuals help cement your memories. This is the same reason why it is so helpful to include visuals in your presentations: they make your message and solution unforgettable.

Well, our ten minutes are almost up. If you find yourself needing assistance to convert a pile of facts into a powerful presentation, or coaching (1 to 100 people) to perfect the company’s corporate message, send us an email (


  1. * John J. Medina, Brain Rules
  2.   Jason Foer’s TED Talk


Photo Credit: Alex Litvin on Unsplash

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Write Your Marketing Communications for Kids (Not Grownups)

Anyone who has spent time around kids knows that the incessant “Why” query is applied to just about everything. But asking “Why” isn’t just a way to annoy adults. It’s their natural inclination to better understand the world around them using storytelling, a form of communication hardwired in our brains.

Sanden Totten is co-creator of a new podcast, “Brains On!”, which has kids asking their most burning questions about culture, science, art and the like. Totten came upon the idea that kids can be the perfect journalistic tool by observing the way adults responded to them.

On WNYC’s “The Takeaway”, Totten mentioned that scientists spoke differently when talking to adults vs. kids. For example, when explaining El Niño to an adult, scientists might say,“Part of the ocean that we call ‘Niño 3.4’ heats up two degrees above average…”

But when kids asked the scientists the very same question, they turned up their storytelling mojo: “El Niño is basically a weather phenomenon that happens when part of the ocean gets really hot and it messes with all of the wind patterns and sends storms to places they normally wouldn’t be.” Bingo! By giving the microphone to kids, the great questions about the world were not only put within their storytelling context, adult comprehension was boosted as well.

For over a decade now, SBR has helped complex product organizations (like health insurance and financial services) create marketing communications that better reach their consumer audiences. During this time we have tested numerous communications against standard industry barometers like health literacy, which measures a person’s ability to read and understand health-related information. But simply writing communications at a certain grade level doesn’t mean that they are compelling.

When you’re selling something as banal as light fixtures or as complex as health insurance, creativity is often replaced with a product description. Instead of product dumping or feature selling (listing product features one by one), use stories to add both an emotive component to common products and help consumers understand how a product could support them. For example, instead of listing the features of a health insurance plan (deductibles, copays, premiums) create a story about how the consumer will use the product: “When you go to your local pharmacy, you’ll show your membership card to the pharmacist, pay the prescription copay of $10, and then you’ll be on your way.”

You can also use kids to test the relative persuasiveness of your marketing speak. If they can understand it and are maybe even intrigued by it, chances are your adult consumers will as well.

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Build a Memory Palace to Deliver Your Next Presentation

I once heard a statistic that humans fear public speaking above death. In his standup routine, Jerry Seinfeld once said, “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” While I can’t relate to that extreme level of fear, I usually have a mental handbag of hypotheticals that nag me in the days and hours before having to speak in public. What if my heel catches and I fall on stage? What if my voice quivers and my hands visibly shake? What if I say something stupid?

It was exactly two weeks before I was scheduled to deliver a presentation at the annual gala for the Professional Association for Consumer Engagement (PACE). Smack dab in the middle of Times Square (well 30 floors above it in the Thomson Reuters Building) I would show how corporations can use the social science technique of ethnography to meet sales and customer service goals. A phalanx of SBR strategists had worked in the weeks prior to design an audience-centered storyline and visual presentation. Now the work was on me to deliver it.

There was one, big problem though. My memory is abysmal. And it’s not just memorizing business presentations that are impaired; I regularly forget names, movies, even family members that I rarely see! I knew this subject matter very well, but memorizing it would force me to stay on-point instead of meandering and potentially boring the audience.

In my search for a pragmatic approach to help transform an unreliable memory into something more dependable I landed on Joshua Foer’s game-changing Ted Talk. Foer showed how he went from science journalist covering the U.S. Memory Championship to eventually winning the competition by mastering the memory techniques he studied.

I picked up Foer’s book, Moonwalking With Einstein, which revealed these techniques, specifically, Simonides’ method of loci (sometimes called the “memory palace” method). The science is surprisingly simple: our brains are better wired to store pictures than words and numbers. Using the memory palace, the person associates concepts with spatial images, and later recalls each item by mentally walking through their memory space.

Through Moonwalking with Einstein I learned that our brains are particularly well equipped to stockpile the ludicrous, so the raunchier and more absurd the mental pictures, the better. I began by converting each slide into preposterous pictures associated with a physical place in my house, starting sequentially with my front door, then moving right into my living room, further on into my kitchen, and so on.

For example, one of the initial topic points I planned to cover was Procter & Gamble’s design of the Swiffer, based upon using the ethnographic technique to observe people cleaning their kitchen floors. In my memory palace, I pictured a hunky man wearing just an apron as he showed a group of women a Swiffer prototype while they sat around my kitchen table. It was just absurd enough to remain in my memory today.

With a 45-minute presentation you might ask how easy it could be to place the necessary pictures into outrageous visuals? Answer: quite easy. In fact, when my mind desperately wanted to revert to rote memorization that it had tried (and failed) to use in the past, I ended up elongating my practice time significantly.

As this was the first time I had employed the technique, I was fairly nervous on the day of the presentation. But all went well. In fact, my mind effortlessly seemed to move from slide to slide, carefully plucking visuals from my cerebral chambers and allowing me to deliver the information with ease. If I ever meet Foer I will hug and kiss him the way you would someone who you are indebted to forever.

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A Plane, a PowerPoint & an Ugly Baby

You know the excitement at having an entire row on a plane all to yourself? On a recent flight, we were just about to settle into our three-row transporter when a late passenger made their way onto the seat next to us. So much for shut-eye. Within minutes we learned that she was an Executive for a tech company, led a sales team and was eager to get home to her three-year-old twins in Los Angeles.  In great detail she described how they hired an expert company that was known for creating outstanding PowerPoint presentations for the likes of Apple and other preeminent wizards of Silicon Valley.

At an altitude of 10,000 feet, she revealed her newly minted sales presentation. Our mouths dropped (frankly, we have a hard time masking our emotions). The credentials of the company were so strong that we expected the presentation to be a worthy reflection of their brand.  It was visually uninviting, fairly dull and pretty much looked like a rookie designer put it together during an all-nighter. One of our Southern colleagues has a great saying: Nobody wants to hear that their baby is ugly.  In this case, her baby was hideous!

We felt compelled to put our consulting hats on and violate the golden rule of kindergarten : bragging, “Mine is better than yours”.  We couldn’t help it.  The demonstration of a strong sales presentation with a crisp value story was necessary.  So we shared a sample of a few PowerPoint presentations we’ve created for sales teams over the last few years.  Her reaction?  “Wait, what I showed you wasn’t the best version, I need to download another one.”  She did.  It wasn’t better.

Over the past decade requests to create presentations have increased tenfold. This is a win for our clients. It’s one of the big reasons why SBR has built a team comprised of copywriters and graphic designers dedicated to crafting presentations.  So we asked our presentation development team to consider three things that companies can use to create stronger presentations, starting today.

1. Story time: Excellent presentations are built around a story. Long gone are the days of busy theme slides with bulleted laundry lists of product features. Consider the fact the brain is incapable of doing two things at the same time. Reading bullets while listening to you speak is difficult, if not impossible. Consider who in your organization has the skills of a storyteller to help sell your product or service and let them try their hand at capturing your value proposition.

2. Pretty is smarter than you think: If vision is one of our most dominant senses, then a visual presentation needs to honor our need to look at pretty things. White space, clean lines, simple text, pictures! This is an area where hiring outside experience in the form of a graphic designer is worth your time and money.

3. Training needed: Great presentations aren’t meant to replace great salespeople and certainly won’t make up for poor sales skills. In fact, a great salesperson can sell without a formal presentation but can run the risk of appearing unprepared or unprofessional. Take the time to train people on the new sales presentation, especially presentations that are a big departure from their typical methods of communicating.

One day we will brand our own idiom to replace “your baby is ugly,” but for now it’s completely apropos!

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