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neuropsychology feature

Persuasion and a little neuropsychology

Neuropsychology – the science of how the brain works – is experiencing a huge growth spurt. We are now really learning how we make decisions, why we make decisions and why habits and behaviour change is hard but can be hacked.

I mentioned in my newsletter a book I was reading written by a digital marketeer, Constantin Singureanu; by the way, he picked up an award (for a business he is working with) at the UK Business Awards. I was a judge in his category, which is how I came across him. (He is the one in the middle).

neuropsychology

In his book, Digital Marketing Made Simple, Singureanu summarises a lot of disparate research about how people make buying decisions online. But so much of what he writes about is equally as relevant for message building, media interviews and presentations.

So here is my summary of the neuropsychology outlined in Digital Marketing Made Simple – and how I see it’s relevance to my work as a media and presentation trainer.

  • Psychologists refer to the human bias towards noticing and remembering the unusual as the Von Restorff effect. This is interpreted by marketing guru Seth Godin as ‘Boring always leads to failure. Boring is the riskiest strategy’. This is true in marketing but also of messaging. I believe if you are trying to get cut-through for an idea – in a media interview or a presentation -boring is never going to work.
  • First impressions matter. Here Singureanu refers to a Harvard experiment where students were presented with a two-second silent clip of a teacher they had never seen before and were asked to rate his effectiveness. The ratings were compared with the ratings of students who actually studied with the teacher for one term. The findings: the two sets of scores were identical. The belief is that we all make judgements about people and things within a split second and then we filter out information that contradicts the opinion we then hold. Common sense suggests there must be some other factors that will be taken into account over the long term, but it is a stunning reminder that in an interview or presentation we have got to give a great impression right from the start. In messaging it means you must capture the essence of an argument with an interesting phrase right from the start. And of course, the performance also matters here. How you look or sound.
  • Last impressions also count … if there wasn’t a strong first impression then the last impression will be influential. So a good hotel visit with a bad check out experience may well mean the customer does not return. For presentations and interviews, this means – end with a bang.

neuropsychology

  • Availability bias is another really stunning bit of neuropsychology. Simply put, people make up their mind about something based on the most readily available information, rather than the more logical approach of reviewing all the evidence. For example, after a plane crash, the number of people travelling by plane will dip even though statistics show that more people die in car accidents than plane crashes. It sounds obvious put like that but big budgets and important business decisions are influenced by what’s making the news, what people see online and read on their way home. What their husband or daughter is saying. What this means for anyone in the business of persuasion is that you have to get out there and repeatedly.
  • Social proof is hugely influential. If you are selling online this is all about reviews. But if you apply this to messaging I would interpret as meaning ‘mention what others say about you’. Of course, this is not as strong as others saying it themselves but it is often quite easy to build ‘third party endorsement’ into your messaging. E.g. ‘I spoke to one CEO last week who said this had been the best fifteen hundred quid he had ever spent.’ If you think that seems lame ask yourself why canned laughter still works.

neuropsychology

The next chapter of Singureanu’s book is all about the importance of feelings. Spin doctors and marketeers deliberately provoke feelings – whether that is fear (fear of Brexit, fear of immigration) or warm fuzzy feelings. So many inexperienced public speakers shy away from either sharing their own feelings or deliberately provoking feelings in their audience. How daft is that!

So to summarise: make your messages interesting, start with a bang, finish with a bang, keep repeating and don’t forget to mention what others think. And finally, decision making is all about feelings and emotions. You are unlikely to influence another person without evoking some feeling in them.

dull presentations

Dull presentations are endemic but can be avoided

Dull presentations that bore the audience and damage people’s careers are to be found, it seems, in every industry and sector. At The Media Coach, we have seen a lot of prize specimens.

Established practice is often bad practice, riddled with overly long bullet points, statements of the blindingly obvious mixed in with obtuse arguments barely understood and rarely remembered. And there are the branding departments who insist on colour schemes, headers, footers etc.

So how can you lift your presentation above the crowd? Below are some of the basics of best practice and some common mistakes made by dull presenters.

Dull presentations

Aim to lift your presentation above the crowd. Remember established practice is often bad practice.

Dull presentations can be avoided

The basics:

• Plan on paper. It will make your structure clearer.

• Have a clear take away message.

• Write for your specific audience – typically, the more tailored the presentation, the better.

Be picture or data led, keep text to a minimum

• Be picture or data led – limit text and bullet points. No one can read and listen at the same time and if you have lots of words on the screen you will be tempted to turn your back on the audience to read them. For a guide watch how little text appears on television graphics. It can be a revelation.

• If it is a long presentation divide it into clear chapters, and tell the audience when you move from one chapter to the other. If you know how to use the message house (anyone trained by us will know what this means) this is a very good basis for a presentation, although clearly not the only template possible.

• Don’t be scared to introduce or summarise an argument in a few words on an otherwise empty slide. It can really help to signpost your presentation in this way. Just don’t leave it up too long.

• Rehearse aloud.

• Face the audience and not the screen for at least 80% of the time.

• Speak slowly with energy.

Dull presentations

Boring your audience should not be acceptable. If you think your presentation is destined to be dull, send an email instead.

Dull presentations. Consider just sending an email

We think presentations should not be just about informing an audience. It should be entertaining and inspiring. As my fellow trainer Eric Dixon would say, if just passing on information is your goal send an email; you will save yourself a lot of effort and both you and the audience a lot of time. Presentations should leave people with something new to think about, inspired and galvanized depending on the circumstances.

Dull presenters are often guilty of these common mistakes

• Copy and pasting an old presentation and then fiddling with it to save time. Whilst there is nothing wrong with reusing old slides it is often simpler and better to start with a clear plan and then fill in with some old and some new slides.

• Writing presentation notes on the slide. As mentioned above you want as few words as possible on the slide. There is a special place for presenters’ notes – use it. You will give a better presentation this way.

• Putting a tiny picture on the slide and a lot of words. I am a huge fan of Garr Reynolds who uses full frame photos and limited text. In this case the image becomes a prompt for each element of the argument. I highly recommend his book Presentation Zen. It will transform your presentations.

• Always using the company template. I know sometimes you are told to do this and you have to suck it up, but ask yourself does every single slide have to be branded? Isn’t there some possibility to break it up with a different style, a visual surprise? How about using the branding only on the chapter headings?

Dull presentations will be lifted by a story or example

More common mistakes:

• No stories, examples or anecdotes. We say it at every possible opportunity but here it is again: tell stories, use examples, and raid your personal life experience or someone else’s to make a point. The scientific evidence is overwhelming – people may be impressed by facts and numbers in the moment but overwhelmingly they remember stories over data. Any stories are good but learning to tell stories properly will improve all your communications.

• No media inserted. In this day and age there is little excuse for not using sound or video in your presentation. Above all remember to keep this short. Just 20-30 seconds of something relevant will lift your presentation from the pedestrian to the entertaining.

• Not rehearsing. Polish comes with rehearsal. 20 minutes rehearsal is ten times more use than 20 minutes chit-chat about what the presentation might cover. Rehearse, revise and rehearse again.

• Over-running your speaking slot. Time yourself in a run-through and then add another 20% – it always takes longer in reality than in rehearsal.

Dull presentations

Our trainers aim to inspire. We tell lots of stories and we rehearse.

Take every opportunity to practise in front of an audience, your loved one, critical children etc. It’s all valuable.

And of course, if you need help with either a particular presentation, or improving your personal style, the Media Coach team would be delighted to oblige. Just give us a call to discuss on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

First two pictures used under cc licence from Pixaby
Third picture owned by The Media Coach

trump Mike Licht CC by 2.0

Shock horror: simple language reaches people

trump Mike Licht CC by 2.0

Academic research shows Donald Trump uses grammar of 11 year olds

The news that a bunch of academics, have shown that Donald Trump, Republican front runner for the nomination as US President, uses the simplest language of all the presidential hopefuls is a gift for mocking headline writers. But it is no surprise to me.

I love the company of intelligent people. I enjoy interesting and diverse conversation. But honestly; do I like it if I feel people are using long words or long sentences that I’m not sure I understand? [My son is very good at this!] I am sure a psychologist would have a fancy term for it, but it makes me feel small. It also makes me feel that the clever person is ‘not one of us’.  In fact, it is clear that sometimes the clever person is deliberately using language to make the point that he or she is not one of us but in fact much cleverer!

Why do I draw attention to this? Because the 101 of media and presentation training is to speak in layman’s language as much as possible (I often say colloquial language but don’t want to fall foul of my own rules).

[In crisis media communications, we teach that being colloquial, not sounding like you have just swallowed some procedural handbook, is pretty essential to winning the sympathy of your audience.]

Usually, when we point out that jargon, acronyms and conceptual language (think access, product, solution) should be replaced by more down-to-earth phrases, people get the point quite quickly. But one in ten, on my reckoning, will push back with one of three resistance lines:  perhaps ‘ I want to speak to the FT not the Sun’, or ‘What will my colleagues think’ or ‘Isn’t this just dumbing down?’

The reality is that if you want to speak to a non-specialist audience, and I would include here most external stakeholders, they will hear you, understand you, and feel more sympathetic towards your argument, if you make the message simple. It needs to be instantly understandable. You do not need to add arrogance, aggression or rudeness (à la Trump).  You just need to talk the way you would talk to your Mum or an intelligent 14-year-old. It is fine to introduce some technical terms in, say, a business presentation or interview, but just make sure you explain them.

Being able to tell a story simply is an amazing gift. The world would be a better place if more people could do it.

Simple language is far from the whole story. Donald Trump is not a good guy, or fit for President, because he uses simple language. But those of us scratching our heads and asking why he is still in the race, should try and learn what we can from his extraordinary and rather frightening success.

Photo credit: Mike Licht CC by 2.0