I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and Egypt when I was in college. When my group arrived at one of the historical sites, we were given a sprig of rosemary to smell. Our tour guide told us that the sense of smell is tied closely to memory, so the smell of rosemary would link to our memory of this place. It was a new concept to me at the time, but to this day, whenever I smell rosemary, I immediately think of my visit to that site in Israel.
As it turns out, this concept is based in scientific fact. In his 2009 book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina relays a study involving memory and smell. The research found that if a person is quizzed on how well he remembers the details of a movie while the smell of popcorn is in the air, he’ll remember approximately 10-50% more of those details. Since we all gain information through our senses, presentations that appeal to our senses will be more attractive to us. Medina goes on to say that “those in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory environments. They have more recall with better resolution that lasts longer, evident even 20 years later.” If you want to move your audience and have them retain the information you are sharing, you’ve got to move past the spoken word to create presentations that appeal to the senses.
The Science Behind Senses
It’s important to remember that less than 1/3 of the population are verbal learners. If you are only talking, you aren’t engaging the large majority of your audience. Take a look at this chart from the book Brain Rules, referenced above. It shows that you give your audience members a much higher chance at remembering the information you are presenting if you appeal to more of their senses.
In addition, Amy Poremba, associate professor at the University of Iowa Department of Psychology, found through a set of studies that auditory information may be processed and stored differently than things that are seen or touched. She found that “if you really want something to be memorable you may need to include a visual or hands-on experience, in addition to auditory information.” This research doesn’t suggest that we should stop relying on words to relay our message, it just indicates that we should stop relying only on words to relay our message.
Moving Beyond Words
You know the research, but how do you practically apply it? To think of your presentation in this new way, as a sensory experience, you’ll have to start thinking outside of the box. It could be anything from serving refreshments ahead of time, to diffusing a clean scent in the room, to changing the lighting, to setting up stations that your audience will travel to throughout the presentation, to handing out a sprig of rosemary. The key is to open your mind to new ideas that might benefit your audience. Start by identifying and evaluating the senses already present in your message or environment. Below are two lists of questions to help you get started.
- What senses are needed to process my message?
- How am I using visual aids/presentation media to benefit my audience?
- Is there something that the audience might need to see, taste, touch, smell, or hear to understand the presentation better?
- Check out the room you’ll be presenting in; how does it look and smell?
- Can the sensory environment of the presentation room be changed in any positive way?
- If it’s a possibility, would a change in location be beneficial for my audience?
- Is there anything I can provide for my audience to foster a positive multisensory environment?
Are you ready to turn your next presentation into a meaningful, multisensory experience for your audience? We’ve got a team of award-winning designers ready to help you at Ethos3. Let’s get started!