In our never ending quest to make presentations better, we’ve invited Dr. Carmen Simon(formerly Taran) to guest author a new series on Better PowerPoint. Dr. Simon is a cognitive scientist, a leader in the virtual presentation movement, and an internationally renowned public speaker. Dr. Simon is a founder of Rexi Media, a world wide presentation consulting firm. This is part three in a series based on her research published this year. Be sure to read Part One and Part Two.
Last week, we discussed the possibility of making slides more memorable by using the forbidden element in PowerPoint: text. We promised a quiz too. Without looking at the previous article, use the comments section below to share with us what content you remember from it.
This week, we address the point of where in a deck to place your most important information for maximum retention.
You may have heard of the primacy and recency effects, according to which people tend to remember items from the beginning and ending of a list a lot more than items in the middle of a list (depending on the presence of a distracter task, the speed of the presentation, and the list length). These observations are typically linked to short-term memory recall tests.
When long-term memory is concerned, and given a longer list length (conditions that describe the present study), researchers have observed that people make a fixed number of searches for items in the long-term store, and the probability of retrieving a particular item is lower when there are more items. This observation matches the findings in our study, where the first slide in all 26 conditions did not receive a high recall rate (in both shuffled and non-shuffled decks). The deck in our study contained 20 slides, and memory was tested after 48 hours; by contrast, most tests on primacy and recency effects contain approximately 10 items and memory is tested immediately after viewing the list.
In more recent studies, some researchers have found significant serial positioning when analyzing the recall rate of commercials broadcast during the Super Bowl. They discovered that commercials presented during the first batch of ads were remembered significantly better than commercials displayed in the middle or at the end of the program. Since alcohol and tedium that may occur during a football game are likely to interfere with a study, other researchers replicated the research in lab conditions, and asked students to view 15 commercials. In a long-term test, they observed that the primacy effect held strong, while the recency effect faded.
Reflecting on serial positioning effects, several researchers have proposed various explanations for the primacy and recency effects. They remarked that the first and last items in a list might be recalled better because, when analyzed globally, the beginning and ending are more distinct; their sheer positioning attracts more attention. Viewers may pay less and less attention to each item as the list progresses, thus creating a primacy effect.
This gradient model of attention could be applied to explain some of the findings in our research study: people tended to remember slides from the first half of the presentation (i.e., 6, 7, 8, and 9), and memory faded towards the end. The practical guideline derived from these observations is to consider placing the most important parts of a presentation in the first half of an on-demand PowerPoint file. If you have other content elements that need to be remembered but they are placed towards the end of the deck, it means that more design effort needs to be placed at the end of the deck.
More about how this can be accomplished next week.