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:



"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:



7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #5

Example of data from researchThis is the 5th in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. Tip #4 was Use The Word “Because” And Give A Reason. Now for Tip #5. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #5: Add research or statistics to bolster your recommendations — Research tells us that people make decisions based on a variety of unconscious reasons, but they like to have a rational, logical, fact-based reason to justify their decision. Including research or statistics with your recommendations makes it easier for people to say “yes”. It’s not enough to cite vague numbers without supporting evidence. You need to provide an actual source for your citation.

For example, if I say, “Research shows that people can only remember 3-4 items”, that is not as strong as saying: “You’ve probably heard that people can remember 7 plus or minus 2 items (5-9), but that number is not accurate. Separate research studies, for instance those by Baddeley and more by Cowan, show that the number is really 3-4 not 5-9”. Then you want to provide the actual research paper citation. (Of course I’m going to recommend my book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People, as a great source for research citations about design!). If you are going to quote statistics make sure of the number and provide a source for the data.

Using your own data, for example, data from user research you conducted is also a great idea. If you have direct quotes and/or video clips from actual users/customers, that is the most powerful and persuasive.

What do you think? Have you been citing research and sources with your recommendations?


The 10 Most Important Secrets of Powerful Presenters

Jill Bolte Taylor holding a brainI am one of those people who loves giving speeches and presentations. From what I have heard, I’m in a minority. Many people dislike giving speeches, but I’ve always had a hard time understanding that. My delight in giving talks is probably tied up with my love of theatre, my desire to be the center of attention (although I am actually an introvert), and my need for approval (and hence applause). People often tell me that I’m a great presenter, or that they loved my talk, or that my talk was the best one at the conference etc etc. so my love for speaking seems to work.

But in all honesty, I’m never quite satisfied with the talks I give. I think most of the time I am improving, but I am always running the presentation through my head afterwards, saying, “oh, I should have …”.

Over my 30 year career of crafting and delivering speeches, classes, and presentations, I’ve attended seminars, read a lot of books, had private coaching, studied some of the “masters”, and experimented with the art and craft of speech making and speech delivering. I’m always looking to improve. I’ve learned a lot about presentations and speeches over the years, and below are my 10 Most Important Secrets of Powerful Presenters:

1. Always be working on the next level — This past May I was a speaker at the (wonderful) UXLX conference in Portugal. The conference was organized with two days of ½ day workshops sprinkled with 20 minute TED-like talks, and a final packed day of back to back keynotes. I was on late in the afternoon of that last day, so I got to hear masterful presenters talk about user experience all day. I was very impressed, not only with the content and creative ideas, but with the delivery. I decided that, although I’ve got some favorite talks I’ve been giving, it’s time to “up my game” yet again. Since then I’ve been experimenting, going to a higher level in my craft. Everyone is at a different place in their presentation or speech crafting skills. You don’t have to become the best speaker in the world overnight. But you do need to analyze your strengths and weaknesses now, and decide what “taking it to the next level” means for you right now. What do you need to do, and how will you get there? Make sure you pick a realistic next level that you can reach within a 6 to 12 month timeframe. Then go after it. Always know where you are now, and what the next level is.

2. It’s ok to have your own style – There is no one way to be a great speaker. Being a great speaker doesn’t mean that you have to open with a joke, or that you have to have highest quality photos in your powerpoint deck. There are some things that all great speakers have in common (see the rest of the points below), but you can experiment and come up with a “style” that works for you. Are you funny? Serious? Warm-hearted? Controversial? Pick what you are comfortable with and then make it your own.

3. Craft your speech – Although some people are good at “extemporaneous” speech making, most of us need to carefully craft our speeches. A formula I often use (modified from what I read in Tim Koegel’s book: The Exceptional Presenter) is:

a. Statement/description of the current problem situation
b. Description of the consequences of not doing anything differently
c. Description of the action you could take that would solve the problems
d. Specific “call to action” (exactly what is it you want the audience to do as soon as the talk is over)

What is really neat is that you can take a,b,c above and create a 10-30 second version of them. Then you start your talk with the mini version of the a,b,c. That launches the talk and you spend the bulk of the talk giving proof and examples around a,b,c, then close at the end with d.

For d.  I like to ask myself (or my client who I giving the talk for), “What is my objective? At the end of the talk, when people are leaving the room, what is it I want them to be saying to themselves? Saying to others? What action do I want them to take immediately (make sure it’s a realistic action).” Then I craft my talk around that call to action.

Voila! (French for “there it is!”) . You have crafted a powerful talk.

4. Only use visuals and props when they are necessary to get the point across or will add novelty and interest – if you have visuals, slides, or a powerpoint or keynote deck it should ONLY contain items that have visual interest or are necessary to make a point. If you are discussing the new electric car that your group has prototyped you probably want to have a picture of the car, or a model or the actual car. If you are showing the new website design then you probably will show the new site on the screen. But if you do not have something necessary or interesting to show then you should SHOW NOTHING. The idea of just talking without visuals may make you nervous, but when you think about it, it is quite absurd to be showing your talking points or notes on the screen in front of everyone. And isn’t that what a lot of people put on their Powerpoint or Keynote slides? NEVER EVER have Powerpoint or Keynote bullet talks that have the major points of what you are saying at the time in the talk. That is your outline and your notes and does not belong on the screen in front of everyone. The slides and visuals you are using are not for you at all. You need to learn to work from notes or note cards so that you are not dependent on what is on the screen to know what you are supposed to say next. And remember, not all visuals have to be slides in a Powerpoint or Keynote deck. You can use props to make your point, like the programmer I saw once who held up cooked spaghetti to talk about poorly written code, or Jill Bolte Taylor who uses a real human brain when she gives her talks on her experience having a stroke.

5. Speak in a loud clear voice – Practice speaking loudly and clearly. If you can, hire a voice coach (not a speech coach, not a singing coach, but someone who can teach you how to use your voice more effectively). I worked with Sandra McKnight from Voice Power Studios. She was great at diagnosing my voice strengths and weaknesses and helping me to develop a stronger and more effective speaking voice.

6. Video yourself talking and then fix the weird things you do – We all do it. We jingle the change in our pockets or rock back and forth on our heels. Or we mess with our hair, or cross our arms and look forbidding. Find out what your “thing” is that you do that will be distracting to the audience. You don’t want them to be looking at you and wondering when you are going to do “it” again, rather than concentrating on what you are saying. If you watch a video of you presenting you’ll see (and be able to correct) all the weird things you do.

7. Be passionate – What inspires people most is when you are inspired too. Let your interest and passion for your topic shine through. If you aren’t passionate about what you are saying, then figure out how to adjust the content so that you are.

8. Use stories – There is research that shows that people process information best when it is told in story form. So use lots of stories in your presentation to get your points across. The preference is for real stories that happened to you, as they will be the most believable.

9. Look at people in the audience – The best speakers have eye contact with the audience. Pick one person in the audience and look at them for about 3 seconds while you are talking. Then switch to someone else, then someone else and keep going. You can probably look at or close to everyone during the course of your talk.

10. Practice, practice, practice – Pick one thing at a time to change or improve or try out. Then DO IT. The more you speak and the more practice you get, the better you will become.

There are many more great ideas, but I wanted to keep this to the top 10. If you are interested check out the workshop I teach on the topic.

So what are some of your favorite tips that I left out?


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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?
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