Almost every single day, I see presentations that cross my desk disrespecting how the human brain functions and operates. Each deck is littered with bullet points, cluttered charts and graphs, and a message that is hard to follow and understand. The common denominator is that they all disrespect a principle called the cognitive load theory.
What is it?
It’s a theory which implies the human brain can only retain so much information. It’s comprised of three separate loads which all influence how someone will remember your content. Therefore, if you respect the three loads, then you are respecting your audience. Here are the 3 loads of cognitive load theory:
The Intrinsic Load
Have you ever noticed that some content is easy to learn while other subject matter is difficult? For instance, maybe adding and subtracting you find to be easy but calculus feels a bit more complex. That’s because calculus has higher intrinsic load and rightfully so since it is more layered. Your responsibility as the presenter is to always keep it simple to keep your content memorable. You have to get back to the basic 1’s and 2’s when presenting.
Presentation Design Tip: When thinking about items like charts and diagrams, break them down into bite size pieces by utilizing builds and transitions to show how everything comes together.
The Extraneous Load
The good news with the extraneous load is that you have full control as a presenter. How you will present will dictate how intense or not intense this load is on your audience. For instance, I can grab a whiteboard and draw a circle for you or I can verbalize what a circle looks like which would be a far more difficult task.
Presentation Design Tip: When describing anything, capitalize on the opportunity to draw, use photos, or showcase anything visual.
The Germane Load
Don’t judge me but when I eat chicken nuggets or eat ramen soup, I think of my Mom. No joke. This was one of my favorite meals as a kid and my Mom loved feeding me it probably because it was cheap, fast, and easy. My brain links those food items to my Mom because our brains rely on experiences. I think chicken nugget and I think about my Mom. The connections, processes, and building blocks that take place in our brain to develop a certain level of expertise is the Germane load.
Presentation Design Tip: Make sure your choice of content and imagery “connects the dots” for your viewer. You can ensure this by approach by opting for visual storytelling. Anything that provides context will help with the learning process.
Designing presentations doesn’t have to be difficult. If you respect the cognitive load theory, you’ll be building and designing presentations are easily remembered.
Note: This is a modified excerpt from my book, What’s Your Presentation Persona?
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