5 Ideas — How To Use Brain Science To Create Persuasive Presentations

How many BORING presentations have you attended in your lifetime? If you are like most people the answer is “too many”! Recently I gave a talk on how to use brain science to create compelling and persuasive presentations. Here are 5 ideas from the talk:

1) Talk to the emotional brain with photos. Forget text bullet points on your slides. Those bullet points are your outline. Don’t bore your audience by showing them your outline! Use colorful photos to capture the attention of the emotional brain. But don’t overdo it. You don’t need a different photo every 10 seconds for every thought you have.
2) Tell stories. Our brain processes information best when it is in the form of a story. Use stories throughout your presentation. These can be true stories or allegorical stories that make a point. Stories make the information easier to understand and process, and they also get people’s attention. Everyone loves stories. Research shows that when you tell a story the brain is reacting as though you are the character in the story. You are, in essence, experiencing what the person in the story is experiencing.
3) Talk to the “old brain”. The old brain is the part of the brain that is most interested in survival. The old brain is all about ME ME ME ME . So make sure that you start your presentation with something that is interesting to the people in the audience. Tell them a story or make a point within the first minute of the talk that is about them, not about you. That will grab their attention and their old brain will say, “I’d better pay attention to this. It’s all about me”.
4) Look people in the eye. In order to be believable you’ve got to look people in the eye while you are talking. Pick out someone in the audience and look at them for about 5 seconds, then pick another person and look at them while you are talking for about 5 seconds, etc. Even if you are not looking directly at each person, just the fact that you are looking up and making eye contact with someone gives the (largely unconscious) message that you are telling the truth and you are reliable. Looking down at your notes all the time makes it seem that you are being shifty and not telling the truth.
5) Say what everyone else is doing. Make sure to use social validation during your presentation. Don’t say “Only 10% of the departments at our company are following this policy”. That tells everyone that hardly anyone else is doing this activity. The principle of social validation says that people tend to want to do what everyone else is doing. So try to word this as “There are now departments at our company who have tried this new policy and have had great success”.
I’ve got even more ideas, but I’ll save them for another post.
Let me know: What are your ideas of how to make a presentation persuasive and compelling?
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/

What Makes a City Usable?


Last week I was in Portland Oregon for the Usability Professional’s Association Conference. It’s my second time in Portland, and I was struck again with how comfortable Portland feels. A common phrase I kept hearing on this trip while talking with people from the conference was, “Have you been to Portland before? It seems like such a nice city.” So I’ve been thinking in the last few days about the concept of a usable city. What makes Portland seem so nice? What makes it feel “usable”. Here are some ideas:

1) Manageable scale: Portland is a manageable city and has a “usable scale”. Meaning, it’s not too big and not too small. You can get a handle on it, but there’s still lots to see. There are some nice looking larger buildings to look at, but it’s not overwhelming.
2) Balance of urban and nature: Portland has a good mix of urban life (sidewalks, stores, cafes) and green spaces (parks, places to sit outdoors). I was especially struck with the idea of a small square in the middle of the downtown that had flowers and Adirondack type chairs where people sat reading.
3) Diversity of people: As you walked the streets there were people young, old, hip, square, all different colors.
4) Get to the airport in 30 minutes for $2.40: OK, I was REALLY impressed with the light rail system… I walk out of my downtown hotel. I walk one very short block with my backpack and roller luggage. I get to the corner and buy myself a ticket for the light rail (the machine for purchasing a ticket is NOT very usable, especially early in the morning by a first time user… that they can improve on). I don’t have to go down an escalator or a set of stairs… so it’s easy with luggage. I just get my ticket from a machine on the street. The light rail train arrives even before I’ve gotten my ticket. It says AIRPORT in big letters. I get on (no steps, just roll the luggage right on) and ride the train about 30 minutes to the airport. It’s quiet enough that I talk on my cell phone without any problem. Best of all, when I arrive at the airport and the door opens I’m IN the airport with the ticket counter in front of me. THAT was impressive. A cab to the airport costs $40… light rail $2.40…same amount of time…
5) Cacao liquid chocolate shoppe: I have to admit that Portland seemed most wonderful and usable after we found the Cacao shop across from our hotel. It’s a small place, with only room for 3 people to sit on stools looking out the window. You order a “shot” of liquid chocolate in one of 3 flavors and sip your warm thick chocolate while watching a soft mist fall outside and talk with friends. It changes your perspective on your day.
I’ll visit Portland again!So what do you think? What cities would you nominate as being usable?

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7 Ways Mr. Fire Can Use Neuro Web Design to Turn Up The Heat


Dr. Joe Vitale is Mr. Fire and when I got an email from him saying “I love your book” we talked first by email and then by phone. Joe interviewed me for his subscriber base, and during the interview he asked if I had looked at his site from a Neuro Web Design point of view. I told him during the interview that I would review his site in my blog, so here goes!

What is Joe doing well in terms of principles from the Neuro Web Design book, and what could he change to make his site (www.mrfire.com) more persuasive?:

1. Use More Pictures That Tell a Story: Joe is using photos and videos and that draws attention, but he needs to use more pictures that tell a story. On his home page there are pictures of him, but where are the pictures of all the people he has helped? There are lots of testimonials and stories from people (that’s persuasive) but a picture of these people in action would be more persuasive. And how about pictures of people doing all the things we all want to do that Joe’s books and ideas will help us achieve? Especially attractive people doing interesting, worthwhile, and fun activities.

2. Use Scarcity: At the web site there is a page announcing his upcoming seminars. He should consider using scarcity. If they are filling up fast he can have a note with a color background saying, “This seminar almost full” or “Only 3 seats left”.

3. Use Social Validation: There are many places where he could use social validation. How many people have attended his seminars? How many books has he sold? How many people are estimated to have watched The Secret (he’s in that movie) or any of the other movies he’s been in? How many people have sent in testimonials to him (he has lots and lots at his website). It would be powerful to show these numbers.

4. Tell More Stories in the 3rd Person: Joe has many fans and they write in telling about how his books, mentoring, and courses have changed their life. But these stories would be more compelling if they were told as stories. Rather than all the stories being told in the person’s own words in the first person, it would be more powerful if some of the stories were told in the 3rd Person narrative form as true stories: “Amber had been struggling for eight years in a combative relationship with her mother, but after coaching with Joe she was able to change their relationship in only a few days….”

5. Use More YOU YOU YOU: Joe’s content is all about individuals reaching their goals. So his website is full of all the wonderful things you will have come into your life when you practice what he is teaching. A lot of the content is written in paragraphs, and this will put the old brain to sleep. The web site would be more persuasive it if would really focus on the word You more, and point out (to the old brain) in short bullet points and pictures exactly what You are Going to Get by reading the book, watching the movie, or signing up for coaching.

6. Reduce Fear of Loss: On the home page Joe has some FREE! offers. I’d like to see more FREE offers on the inside pages, especially when he wants to get someone to spend money. The FREE on the home page is to subscribe … but it’s actually not totally clear what I am subscribing to (a newsletter?) FREE works best when it has to do with a purchase, as it mitigates fear of loss.

7. Limit Choices So People Will Choose: Joe does so much… he has books, movies, seminars, coaching… his site is rich and full of things to read and check out — too many things. Research shows that if you give people too many choices they choose nothing at all. I wonder how many people come to the site and leave without purchasing anything or signing up for something. Sure, you can have all that info at the website, but Joe should consider making only one or two or three at the most actions really clear… make it seem that the first decision is just amongst three alternatives. That would get people to take an action.

There you have it… 7 ways for Mr. Fire to turn up the heat. Joe Vitale has great content. I hope some of these ideas will help his ideas get out there even more persuasively than before.

5 Steps to More Creativity Using Brain Science

Want to be more creative? Whether you are an artist, writer, scientist, web designer, marketer, sales person or business executive, being more creative means you’ll come up with more and better ideas and have more fun while you are doing it.

If you want to have more creative ideas you need to work with, not against, the part of your brain that comes up with ideas: the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain focuses on finding answers and solutions. It combines separate ideas from the rest of your brain and makes connections between them. But the pre-frontal cortex has some interesting and idiosyncratic ways of working, so there are things you can do that help it do its work, and things that hinder. Below are 5 things you can do to help the pre-frontal cortex, and thereby help you be more creative:

1.Find “your spot” and go there: In order for the pre-frontal cortex to connect up different ideas in your brain, and come up with that great creative idea, it has to be quiet, still, focused and not distracted. This means you have to be doing an activity that does not require much conscious thought. Everyone has a certain activity/place that is where they get their most creative ideas. For me it is water… if I am in the shower, or washing dishes, or swimming laps my mind kind of “spaces out” and then all these creative ideas pop in. For some people it is when they are going for a walk, for others when they are gardening, or in bed about to fall asleep… Figure out the activity/spot where your creative ideas come to you and then make sure you do that activity regularly.

2. Forget about it: In order for the pre-frontal cortex to work you have to consciously forget about the “thing” that you are trying to be creative about… So if you are trying to solve a business problem, come up with a new design for a web page, or decide what to write in your blog, the best thing to do is to forget about it entirely. This allows time for your pre-frontal cortex to go combing around your brain for ideas. If you stay focused on the question and keep mind chatter going on about it, then the pre-frontal cortex will be too distracted to go solve the problem.

3. Give yourself time: You will need to be patient. You will need the time to forget. So give yourself enough “elapsed” time… you will need at least a couple of hours and sometimes days or weeks to come up with creative ideas. The more you let go and the more you go to your “spot” the faster the creative process will happen. Similarly, if you want others to come up with creative ideas you can’t just say, “Quick, I need an idea about XXX!” and expect them to have a good answer. The pre-frontal cortex needs time.

4. Work with others: Multiple pre-frontal cortices are better than one! Give the whole team the problem or issue you are trying to solve, then let each person (each pre-frontal cortex) have time to work on it alone. Then bring the team together and let them share their ideas. And then take some more time to let the pre-frontal cortex absorb the ideas from the group. Then bring the team back and you will have some truly great creative solutions.

5. Act on your ideas: When I’m in the shower I get some really great ideas. The trick is getting them written down as soon as I get dried off! and then acting on them. Don’t forget to follow through.

P.S. I had the idea for this blog on creativity… you guessed it, in the shower!

Photo: Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/

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Be Like Obama

An article from Time on April 2, 2009 describes how President Obama used a secret group of behavioral scientists to craft his campaign, and how he continues to use the group to implement policy changes in the government and consumer changes in behavior.

This secret group includes many of the well known names in the field of persuasion, including Cialdini, Ariely, and others. The secret group is advising the Obama adminstration on how to use the principles I talk about it my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? In my book I explain how to use persuasion principles such as social validation, reciprocity, commitment and others to create web pages that persuade visitors to take specific actions.

So now when you redesign your page to be more persuasive you are joining the ranks of people “in the know” including President Obama!

Use Community to Encourage Self Service

I was speaking today with a friend/colleague about their project to try and get people to use a support website for technical help rather than call the help desk. She asked me how they could get people to use the website instead of call in. People will call in if the help desk is really helpful. For example, I have Apple Care for my Mac. They are usually very helpful. I’ll pick up the phone and call them. But when I have a problem with my HP laptop at home, I’ll do anything to avoid calling the HP help desk (not at all helpful). I’d rather go online and search on my own. But then comes the next interesting question. Which is better? the vendor tech support site or searching on google? Definitely searching on google! Support self-service works well when the user can direct the search… they can refine the search parameters and when the search results have enough detail so the user can see if they will be useful, including telling a story.

Recently I searched for a problem I was having with Powerpoint on my Mac. Entering my search query into Google, I quickly found someone who wrote a story that sounded just like my story. Sure enough, when I looked for more details I discovered they were having the same problem, and they wrote back in with the solution!

Community forums seem to be the best way to get support help. Using the idea of social validation, people will often trust others more than they trust experts these days (especially true of the millennial generation). Really the model is that people are their own expert. They in fact are not searching for someone to give them an answer, they are searching for the “nugget” of information told in a story format from another person — the nugget that will give them a hint, an “a ha” moment that will result in figuring out the problem and the answer on their own. If you want to encourage self service, use community and others stories to encourage people to solve their own problems.

What do you think? Help desk or vendor support site or community forum from google? Which do you find most helpful?

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A Quick Summary of Some Interesting Research


Now that March is here, I thought I’d summarize and link to some great research I found during the last month….

There are gender differences in brain activity when people view something the describe as beautiful. For men it is the right hemisphere that is active, but for women both right and left hemispheres light up. For more information, see:
http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/02/24/men-women-beauty.html

Humans and mice make the same assessments of risk says Deric Bownds. I believe this gives more proof that decision-making is unconscious. For more information see:
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/02/similar-risk-assessment-in-man-and.html


If your product name is long and hard to pronounce the product may be viewed unfamiliar. Things that are seen as unfamiliar are also viewed as risky…maybe too risky. For more information:
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/02/if-it-is-difficult-to-pronounce-it-must.html

I hate those smiley face icons, but a utility company is successfully using them to encourage people to conserve power! For more information:
http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/smiley-power.htm


Smell unconsciously affects your judgments of other people. Even if you don’t notice that there is a scent. for more information:
http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2009/02/smells_–_even_smells_we_dont.php

Have your own favorites of recent research? Let us know….

Sell with Stories

It’s all about stories. Finca is a micro loan company. You give them some money and they loan it to people around the world who are trying to improve their lives. It’s a great organization doing vital work. Their website has good photos, but they could be even more effective if they would focus focus focus… Here’s a snapshot of their home page. There is a block at the top that cycles photos from people and small businesses that they loan to, and this photo block is great. However, they could use it even more… the one liner they have under the photo should start to tell a story about the people in the photo. When you click on the photo it should take you to a page where you get to see (with more photos) and read the story of the people in that photo (it takes you instead to their goal of a 100,000 village banks).

On their home page they also have a picture of some people at an event to open a UK branch… this is not a compelling photo, and it distracts from the photos above which are the real people who are recipients of the micro loan. And lastly, the yellow column on the right is also a distractor… small text, lots of text, small images… it draws attention away from the main STORY which should be the photos of the people.

In Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about how and why stories are so powerful. Finca’s home page would be more compelling if they would focus the home page on telling stories of the people that are helped by donating micro loan money, and if you could click on the photos to get the full story. The home page would be improved if they made it simpler, taking off other information from the home page… let it focus on story.

Do you have a favorite site ? or a site that you think is not persuasive enough? Send me the URL and I’ll review it here at the blog.

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A University Gets Neuro Savvy



With the economy the way it is right now I am guessing that colleges and universities are doing whatever they can to attract and keep students. Perhaps that is why we are seeing what is obviously a lot of effort being put into university websites. Even small, less well known colleges.

I happened upon one of these… this is a midwestern school of about 10,000, and whoever is working on their website is doing a great job at designing for the unconscious. There are lots of bold interesting pictures on the home page at the top… these scroll through as you watch them. They show interesting pictures of real students out in the world. The pictures themselves are stories, and they make you want to read more (as in click the Read More button) to find out the story behind the photo. When you do so you get a story, told as a story. As I write in my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? stories are powerful and get and keep the attention of the unconscious mind, as do pictures of people, which they have a lot of.

With competition for students getting tougher, and with students choosing to stay closer to home and save money, these savvy neuro tactics become important for all colleges and universities. Kudos to UW, Steven Point!

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New Research Shows Herd Behavior When Shopping Online

In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click, I have a chapter on Social Validation: When we are uncertain we look to others to see what our behavior should be.

Now some new research tests this idea online. In a series of research studies by Chen (see end for full reference), visitors to a simulated website were given two holiday traveling books to choose from. Both had similar sounding titles, were hardcover, showed similar number of pages, list price and availability.

In the first study Chen showed different consumer ratings. In some cases people saw that one book had 5 stars and the other had 1, or one had 4 and the other had 2, or both had 3 stars. The books with more stars were chosen signficantly more often. Ok, it’s not a big surprise, but it’s good to have some actual data. But read on, the rest of the studies got curiouser and curiouser…

In the second study Chen compared book sales volumes instead of star ratings. People chose the book that was selling the best.

In the third study Chen tested consumer recommendations vs. expert recommendations. One group got this info: “Name of Book Here” is the leading book in the tourism area as voted for online by readers” vs. “Our advisors, experts in the tourism area, strongly recommend “Name of Book Here”. People chose the book picked by consumers more than the book picked by experts.

And in the fourth study, Chen tested a recommender system, (“Customers who bought this book also bought”) vs. the recommendation of the website owner, (“Our Internet bookstore staff strongly recommends that you buy…”) People followed the recommendation of the website owner 75% of the time, but they followed the recommender system 88.4% of the time.

Consumer recommendations are powerful. Social validation at work. Welcome to the herd!

Reference: Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

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