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.