Tuesday, December 01, 2009

PowerPoint Tip: Sequence of Information matters

Research by Michael Posner reported in John Medina’s book Brain Rules shows why the typical sequence of information is not helping our presentations be as effective as they could be. I’ve been sharing this with my workshop audiences this year and I’d like to share it with you in today’s tip.

The usual sequence is to methodically share every piece of supporting data we have in a logical order and present the conclusion after all the data has been shared. For example, a typical persuasive sales presentation would list each feature of the product or service and then present the conclusion that the product or service is the best to solve the problem at hand. So why is this not as effective as it could be? Because the audience doesn’t know where you are headed. By the time you get to the conclusion, they have forgotten the different pieces of data and don’t necessarily know how the data supports the conclusion. With confusion comes lack of action.

Research by Michael Posner suggests that audiences recall better and understand your message better if they first hear the conclusion, then the supporting data. This way, they know where you are headed and can fit the data you present into the conclusion you have already stated. It is similar to having the destination first before you start to map the route. By knowing where you are going, you can see how each road in the route moves you towards the destination. This is a simple change that you can make in your presentation that will make it more effective.

I want to take this research and extend it’s application one step further. When you create a non-linear presentation, you state the conclusion first, then give the audience a menu of data to select from. The audience selects what data they need to hear in order to convince themselves that your conclusion is valid. This is a great way to engage the audience and customize the presentation to this exact audience at this exact time. How much time would be saved in meetings if the audience could direct the presentation and hear only what they needed to hear in order to support the conclusion?

If you haven’t read Brain Rules yet, click here to order a copy from Amazon or pick it up at your local bookstore. If you want to create your first non-linear presentation and want to know how to use hyperlinks in PowerPoint to do so, check out the “how-to” video in the Hyperlinks section of my PowerPoint How-To Videos page.


Blogger Andy said...

Cool stuff! This is a really awesome way to look at giving presentations. Have you checked out the Office conversation on Facebook yet? If not, head to http://www.facebook.com/office

Office Outreach Team

6:48 PM  
Blogger Olivia Mitchell said...

Hi Dave

I also teach people to present conclusions first. But I didn't know about Posner's research on this, and I can't find it in my copy of Brain Rules. Can you give me a page number.


2:15 AM  
Blogger Dave Paradi said...


I have the hardcover edition of Brain Rules and I am referring to Medina's application of Posner's research as detailed on pages 88 and 90. I find it gives presenters a basis for why the conclusion should come first.


5:46 AM  
Blogger TJ said...

Hmmm. This seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

I agree with the basic point that you can't just pull out the firehose and expect the audience to still be with you at the conclusion.

Still, I believe the research only supports that (1) you need a hook, and (2) you need sign posts along the way.

While giving the conclusions first works well when you think the audience is interested and positively predisposed, it has its risks. In particular, it can cause an audience to dig in their heels if the conclusion is not what they want to hear. Second, revealing the conclusion may give license to the audience to not pay attention.

In many situations it is easier to maintain attention through the use of a story, the asking of questions, or other means.

Just my two cents,


1:01 PM  

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