Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #2 – Writing By Hand Can Increase Commitment

Picture of a hand writing on a pad of paperI remember, many many years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D. thesis in graduate school, my first draft was done by hand (ok, now I’ve admitted that I’m quite old!). Most writing these days is done by typing on a keyboard. I write these blogs directly into my laptop using a keyboard, same thing with the books that I write, and most of my communications with friends and family is done via emails that I, of course, compose at my keyboard. There are still a few things I write “by hand” — my most important daily “to do” lists are done by hand, as well as most of my business planning. It’s interesting, when you stop to think about it, which things you write by hand versus with a keyboard. But does it matter? And as a presenter should you care how people might be taking notes during your presentation?

Writing things down increases commitment — If people write something down (compared to, for example, thinking it or speaking it out loud), it increases their commitment to the idea and to taking action. Deutsch and Gerard (1955) asked people to estimate the length of some lines. They were looking at the effect that others might have on decision making. They had other people who were part of the experiment estimate the length of the line incorrectly. Would the subjects go along with the incorrect estimates they were hearing from others, or would they stick (commit) to the answer they felt was correct? If you have read my blog post about social validation,  you won’t be surprised to discover that the line length estimates were influenced by the what other people said.

Writing can over come the influence of social validation – But Deutsch and Gerard also looked at whether there were situations in which commitment to a decision would be stronger. Before hearing what others had to say on the length of the line:

  • Group 1 wrote their estimates on paper. They were told not to sign the paper, and that they would not be turning in the sheets of paper.
  • Group 2 wrote their estimates on a “magic pad,” and then lifted a sheet and the estimate was erased without anyone seeing it.
  • Group 3 was told to write their estimates on paper, to sign their papers, and they were told that their papers would be collected at the end of the experiment.

Did the groups vary in terms of how strongly they stuck to their commitment of the length of the line? Group 2 was most likely to change their decisions and to give incorrect estimates. Groups 1 and 3 reacted the same way. They were five times less likely to change their answers. They were more committed to their original estimates, regardless of what they heard others say.

Signing their names or being told they were going to hand in their estimates did not seem to make a difference. Just the act of writing it on something relatively permanent was enough to make them commit.

Writing changes brain processing — Research by Shadmehr and Holcomb (1997) looked at brain activity when people wrote with something longhand (for example, with a pen or pencil) instead of  typing on a keyboard. Writing involves different muscles than typing, and Shadmehr and Holcomb found that there was more memory consolidation when people were writing in longhand.

If you want people to commit to the call to action you have at the end of your presentation, and remember that commitment, consider having them write down their action step on a piece of paper before the presentation ends.

What do you think? Is your behavior different when you write things down “by hand”? Have you tried this in your presentations?

And for those of you who like to read the research:

Deutsch, Morton, and Harold B. Gerard. 1955. A study of normative and informational social influences upon individual judgment. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Vol 51(3), 629-636.

Shadmehr, Reza and Holcomb, Henry H. 1997. “Neural Correlates of Memory Motor Consolidation.” Science 277.

Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #1 – People learn best in 20 minute chunks

20 Minutes

I’m wrapping up my new book, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People (It’s available for pre-order and will ship on May 17th), so I thought I’d take some ideas from the book for some blog posts. I’ve picked my 10 favorites (always hard for me to pick only 10 when I love all 100!), and will do a “Top 10” series here in the blog. This is the first post in the series.

When I am coaching and mentoring people on presentations I almost always recommend that they watch some TED talks. If you aren’t familiar with TED talks, go to and watch some. These are short talks by accomplished people in their fields. Most of these people don’t earn their living making presentations, but all of the presentations are very interesting. You can learn a lot about effective presentations watching TED talks.

Most TED talks are 20 minutes long —  I think that’s one reason why they are so effective. These same presentations stretched out to an hour might not be quite so brilliant.

20-minute presentations are an ideal amount of time —  Maureen Murphy tested this idea in an experiment. She had adults attending a 60 minute presentation at work, and tested to see the difference in memory and reaction to the same talk given in one 60 minute long presentation, versus a presentation that had 20 minute segments with short breaks in between. What Dr. Murphy found was that the people enjoyed the 20-minute chunked presentations more, learned more information immediately after, and retained more information a month later.

Plan your presentation in 20 minute chunks —  See if you can build in some kind of change every 20 minutes. For maximum learning you want a break every 20 minutes, as opposed to just a change of topic. The best ways to accomplish this are:

  • If you are presenting for more than one hour you probably have a break planned. Time the break so that it comes at one of these 20 minute time periods.
  • Instead of taking one long break, take several short ones. For example, it is common for a half-day workshop to go from 9 to 11:30 or 9 to 12 with one 20-30 minute break at around 10:30. Instead of one 30 minute break, have one 15 minute break and then 3 other short 5 minute breaks.
  • When I am presenting I sometimes introduce short “stretch” breaks. These are anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes in length. I just announce, “Let’s take a short 3 minute stretch break”. I time these to fall in the 20 minute intervals.
  • If you have activities, exercises, or interactions, plan them at 20 minute intervals. Although they are not true breaks, they allow people to assimilate the information just presented.

If you want to read the research:

Murphy, Maureen. 2012. Improving learner reaction, learning score, and knowledge retention through the chunking process in corporate training. Denton, Texas. UNT Digital Library.

And if you want to check out the book here’s a link to Amazon:



Experiences vs. Possessions: You Are What You've Done, Not What You Own

Picture of the beach
A walk on the beach is an experience you will use to define who you are.
In the last few years psychology research (e.g. Carter & Gilovich, 2010) has proven what many of us have long suspected: that experiences (vacations, events with friends, etc) make people happier than buying and owning stuff (computers, clothes, etc). But more recent research by the same duo (Carter & Gilovich, 2012) shows that the experience vs. possession difference goes further than they thought.
Why are experiences more important? — In their newest reserach Carter and Gilovich wanted to find out why we value experiences over possessions. Their theory was that people use experiences to define their sense of self more than they use possessions. This proved to be true. People in their study talked about their experiences more than possessions when they told their “life stories”. When talking about purchases and possessions they were more likely to feel that a purchase was an indicator of who they were if they described it in terms of their experience with the possession rather than the physical quality of the item itself.
Experiences give more info — The value of experiences to understand went beyond themselves. Participants in the study  felt that knowing what another person had experienced would give them more information and insight into who they really are than knowing what they bought.
Experience = more satisfaction — And lastly, the researchers conclude that it is because people cling to the memory of important experiences that makes them more satisfied with experiences compared to possessions.
Thinking about the results of this research the following ideas come to mind:
  • If you are marketing a product, put emphasis on what experiences you will have with it rather than what it will look like/feel like/ be like to own it.
  • If you are collecting purchasing info about target clients (as has been in the news lately with questions about privacy) you’d be better off to know what people’s purchases imply about the experiences they are having rather than just inferring from the data what they own.
  • The user experience of a product is more important than we think. It’s not just the idea that the product should be easy to use/ interesting. The EXPERIENCE part of user experience is not just a fancy word to use. People remember and evaluate, and even cherish experiences, even with technology.
  • Customers may resonate more with a brand if they can get a sense of what the organization has DONE, not just what products or services they sell.
What do you think? What are the implications that we define sense of self through experience more than possessions?
And if you like to read the research:
Carter, Travis J.;Gilovich, Thomas
I Am What I Do, Not What I Have: The Differential Centrality of Experiential and Material Purchases to the Self.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb 27 , 2012,  doi: 10.1037/a0027407
Carter, Travis J.; Gilovich, Thomas. The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 98 (1): 146 DOI:10.1037/a0017145

A Podcast On Website Content With Colleen Jones

Colleen Jones, author of Clout
Colleen Jones, author of "Clout"

Colleen Jones is the author of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content. I read Colleen’s book and then invited her to give a talk at a panel I was putting together at the HCI conference in 2011.

Anyone involved in website design and development talks about how important content is, but how much time and energy do we really invest on website content? When you are designing a website it’s easy to get caught up in layout and design standards, and formats. In this podcast with Colleen we talk about what it means to pay attention to content.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link It’s 30 minutes in length.

Topics include:

  • How website content is becoming the main way customers interact with a company.
  • Why it is that content so often gets ignored.
  • Some practical steps you can take to get started on your path of giving content its due in your design process.

Besides writing books like Clout, Colleen is the Principal and Founder of the company Content Science, where she consults and teaches workshops on how to change the role of content in your internet marketing.

What do you think? Is your organization structured so that excellent content for website visitors can be a top priority? How critical do you think this is?

You can reach Colleen through her website, Content Science.

The book is:

Jones, Colleen. 2010. Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content. New Riders.



"Bad Powerpoint Presentations Are A Serious Threat To The Global Economy"

IPresenter Book Cover   
100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People

In his TED talk, John Bohannon says that “bad powerpoint presentations are a serious threat to the global economy”. He estimates that:

Each day $250,000,000  (USD) is spent on presentations, assuming each presentation is ½ hour long, with an average audience of 4 people that have an average salary of $35,000 USD.

Each day there are 30,000,000 presentations created

¼ of presentations are a total waste of time

$100,000,000,000 (USD) is wasted globally on presentations each year

I don’t know how accurate his numbers are, but I do know that I feel blessed when I see/attend a great presentation, and bored and antsy when I”m watching/attending a bad one.Which got me thinking about why a lot of presentations are so bad, and only a few are good. Having been a presenter all of my adult life, I’m dedicated to, and fascinated by, the science of giving a great presentation, and therefore decided to make that my next book: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People.

Score a free copy of the book — For this book I am including “Stories From The Field” which is a collection of tips and stories from YOU. I’m asking people to send me their presentation tips, techniques, good, and disaster stories. If I use the story or tip you send me in the book, then you’ll get a free copy of the book (due out in May).

So if you have stories, tips or techniques email them to me at:



The Science of Happiness, Part 3: What commuting, graduate degrees and being single have in common

Chart of the dowjones and happiness
Correlation Between the Dow Jones and Happiness

WARNING: The following discussion is about the correlation between happiness and many other factors. But it’s just correlation. The factors below are correlated with happiness, but that does not mean they CAUSE happiness. “Correlation does not imply causation”.

Now that I’ve posted the warning, I can talk about some of the interesting correlations between happiness and other things. Such as:

  • Extroverts are happier than introverts.
  • Optimists are happier than pessimists
  • Married people are happier than single people
  • People who attend religious services regularly are happier than people who do not
  • People who have a college degree are happier than people who do not have a college degree BUT
  • People with advanced degrees are LESS happy than people with just a bachelor’s degree
  • People who have sex are happier than people who don’t have sex
  • People who are busy are happier than people who say they have too little to do
  • People are happier the older they get
  • The more someone commutes the LESS happy they are — in fact commuting is one of the largest sources of stress and unhappiness there is. The length of the commute is directly connected to happiness. The more minutes of commuting = more unhappiness.
  • People are happier when they feel they can predict what is happening — hence the chart above that shows that when the Dow Jones dropped unexpectedly, happiness dropped, but when people realized that it was going to be a bumpy ride then it stopped affecting their happiness
  • People are happier when they live in close proximity to happy people (not just in your house, but including the neighborhood).

I have a Ph.D., but I work out of my house. Maybe the two cancel each other out?

What do you think about these correlations?

Here’s the references:

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss, Twelve, 2008.

Fowler, J. H.; Christakis, N. A (3 January 2009). “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study” (PDF). British Medical Journal 337 (768): a2338. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338PMC 2600606PMID 19056788.

Graham, Carol, Soumya Chattopadhyay, and Mario Picon (2010), “Does the Dow Get You Down? Happiness and the U.S. Economic Crisis”, mimeo, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, January.


A Podcast on Affordances and Adaptive Interfaces with Justin Davis

Photo of Justin Davis
Justin Davis of Madera Labs

Justin Davis of Madera Labs is a great speaker and a lot of fun to talk with. I met Justin in 2010 in Lisbon Portugal, where we were both speaking at the UXLX conference.  I invited him to speak on a panel with me at the HCI conference in 2011. I think we talked non-stop for 5 hours one day at the conference. Most of that was just because we can’t stop talking about user experience and designing interfaces, but for a half hour we turned on the microphones and recorded an interview together. It’s a deep dive into affordances and adaptive interfaces.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link (30 minute podcast)

In this podcast we talk about:

What is an affordance 

Are affordances important on even something as mundane as a form (the answer is yes)

Have affordances been disappearing over time in interfaces?

Why it is a problem when affordances are missing

Is there a clash between visual design styling and human cognition

The 4 types of affordances — (we refer to the chart below in the podcast):

Chart about affordances

How thinking about affordances helps pay attention to the small things that are important but can be overlooked.

In addition to talking about affordances we talked about adaptive interactions – where the website/app changes based on the users’ actions, including:

Content based adaptation – change content on the page based on your past behavioral data

Content based filtering – change your interaction choices based on your past behavior

Collaborative filtering – change content and interaction based on what others have done who seem to like what you like

Interaction adaptation – the interface changes, not based on content consumption, but based on how you move through the interface.

What do you think? Are affordances important? What is the future of adaptive interfaces?

FYI — Justin’s twitter address is: @jwd2a


The Science of Happiness, Part 2: Do You Live In A Happy Country?

Map of the WorldIn Part 1 of this series on the Science of Happiness, I wrote about a happiness set point.

This is Part 2, where we take a look at the relationship between happiness and geography.

Is where you live correlated with how happy you are? —  The answer is yes. But it is a complicated answer. There is a lot of research on the relationship between happiness and geography. As you might imagine, the results depend at least partially on which questions you ask. If you ask people how satisfied they are with their life, and how they felt about the previous day, then you get the data that Forbes reported on from Gallup. The top “happiest” countries according to Gallup are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden
  5. The Netherlands

at the bottom of the list of 155 countries are:

  1. Sierra Leone
  2. Cambodia
  3. Comoros
  4. Burundi
  5. Togo

On the Gallup list the United States is #14 and the UK is #17

(If, instead of asking people you measure things like income, access to education, etc, you get very different data, in other words, objective measures don’t agree with subjective measures. A great source of objective measures is the UN’s Human Development Indicators).

Gross National Happiness — In his book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner covers the research on happiness and geography, with a bit of satire thrown in. He travels to several of the countries at the top of the list, a few in between, and a few at the bottom, and writes about his adventures, including his visit to Bhutan where they invented and use a GNH (Gross National Happiness) index to make policy decisions instead of the GNP (Gross National Product) or GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Trust is the Key — Weiner summarizes the research this way: The more the people in a country trust their government, the higher up they are on the happiness scale. Another strong factor is the amount of family and social ties that the people in that country have.

Time to move to Denmark? — What do you think? Should we all go move to the Scandinavian countries that rank high? Is this just a correlation and not a causation? Do you think geography is linked to happiness?

If you’d like to dig deeper:

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss, Twelve, 2008

Forbes article on the Gallup research

UN Human Development Indicators


The Science of Happiness, Part 1: Everyone Has A Happiness "Set Point"

Picture of a Gauge with a needle about 2/3 of the way over
What is your happiness set point?

Are you a happy person? Is there such a thing as a happy person? Is happiness something that can be scientifically studied? Only you know the answer to the first question above, but the answer to the other questions is “yes”. This post is the first in a short series on the science of happiness.

Your set point — Two books that talk about the set point of happiness are: The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Stumbling On Happiness by Dan Gilbert. Each individual has a tendency to have, and stay at, a certain level of happiness. Some people are naturally more happy than others. There is a “set point” for your own personal happiness, and that set point is 50% determined by genetics. In other words you are born with a tendency to be very happy, somewhat happy, or not very happy. The events in your life can affect your happiness, but not very much, and not for very long. Whether you win the lottery, or lose your job, you will tend to “bounce back” or not, to your natural level of happiness.

How to determine your set point — Chances are you already know approximately where your happiness set point is, but if  you are interested in finding out more exactly, you can take a questionnaire and score yourself in The How of Happiness book. BUT, I have to say that that is the only part of the book that I recommend. I purchased the How Of Happiness book because it promised to handle the science of happiness. However, only a small portion of the book relates to the science. The rest is a collection of what I consider tired advice on how to be happy (spend time with loved ones, be grateful for what you have, etc). Luckily for us there are other books that are research based and have real insights about happiness. I’ll be covering these other books as I write the rest of this series on The Science of Happiness.

Can you change your set point? — By definition, a set point is something that is hard to change. So the bad news is that you really can’t change your set point for happiness. BUT having said that, you should realize that only about 50% of your happiness is determined by that set point. This means that even though you can’t change your set point for happiness, you CAN change how happy you are, (to a limit). In the rest of the posts in this series we’ll explore the research on happiness factors, and what you can do to be happier regardless of where your set point is. Here’s a sneak previews– being grateful for what you have won’t necessarily do it (and may actually lower your happiness!).


What do you think? Do you know your own happiness set point?



The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Penguin, 2008

Stumbling On Happiness by Dan Gilbert, Vintage, 2007

Launching the User Experience Institute Today

Just a quick note to say that I’ve launched my new business today. I’ve left Human Factors International and have started a company dedicated to research and training in all things user experience. It’s called the User Experience Institute. I’ll be posting more information on it as well as getting a new website up and running soon.

Ideas for research? — The new company will focus on training (classes, on-line seminars etc), but we will also be conducting practical research in user experience. I’d like your input into what design and user experience questions you have in general. Here are some ideas other people have given me recently:

  • What is the best way to design a table?
  • What’s the latest reaction to having scrolling pages vs. breaking things up into multiple pages?
  • Are breadcrumbs really (still?) dead?

I’m collecting practical questions like these, and then we’ll design some studies to test the ideas, and put together some seminars etc to communicate. Send me your burning questions about all things related to people and technology!

You can reply in the comments, or send an email to: