How to avoid death By PowerPoint | David JP Phillips | TEDxStockholmSalon


Translator: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, welcome. There is a question which has puzzled me for quite a while, and that is, Why do our PowerPoints
look the way they look? Or rather, How on earth, can we accept
that they look the way they look? How can you do that? And do you know what’s even more intellectually
challenging for me to understand? It’s, How can a person sit over here
in this meeting room with 10 others, observing this dismally bad PowerPoint filled with charts,
graphical elements, page numbers, fading away five, seven minutes,
thinking of other things? You know the feeling,
the boredom, the waste of time? This person, after 40 minutes, he or she will stand up, a bit dazed, trotting off to his own office,
coming to his own computer, flipping it up, going like, ‘Oh my god,
I’ve got a presentation tomorrow, and I do have a PowerPoint to build.’ (Laughter) Now, what is the chance that this person
will build an equally bad PowerPoint as the one that he or she
was herself tortured by in the other conference room? Is that a big chance? Yeah. Now, what is that? Why do we do that? Is that vengeance? Is that where you go like,
‘You did that to me. Phew! I’m going to do it to you.
You got it coming, bro’? Is that the case? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s got to do
with vengeance, intelligence. I think it’s got to do
with something else. Now, my passion in life is the brain, and an even bigger passion
that is presentation skills. And I love combining these two. And about four years ago, I got so, so upset I blew my top because the way
that we do neural executions all over our boardrooms today is just – it’s not fair to our intelligence
as being Homo sapiens. So I thought there’s got to be something
we can do about this, so I searched the world,
I looked for seminars, I looked for training programs,
I looked for books that could solve this question for me, but there was none to be found. So I thought, ‘Well,
I’ll just do as Franz Kafka said, “If it isn’t written, write it yourself.”‘ And four years later, I have the great honour
to stand here in front of you. What am I talking about? What are the PowerPoints I’m referring to? They can look like this. Now, this is one of the top three
universities in the world, advising their students and their teachers
on how to build great PowerPoints. I received this from a customer, and you’ve got to be semi-blind in order to even have something
like this in the company. I love this one. This one was awarded the prize
of being the worst PowerPoint delivered by a public CEO in 2010. It’s a nice prize to pick up, isn’t it? ‘Oh yes, thank you.’ (Laughs) Well done, mate. And then you’re like,
‘This is bad. Can it get worse?’ Yes, it can. (Laughter) Now, this is the UN in Afghanistan, the US military describing
the situation in the area. And, well, there are no comments on that. But then we get this one. ‘My god, David Phillips,
this has got to be the thing. This has got limited amounts of text. It’s got a supporting image. It’s got a clear headline. This is the truth.’ Well, the thing is, if you recognise yourself in any of these, which I think you do, nodding away, I want to make you aware of the following: that if you’ve delivered a presentation
with something like that behind you, 90% of what you said was gone within 30 seconds. And then you go, ‘No, no, no way, Jose, that is way – I know it’s bad,
but it can’t be that bad, can it now, really?’ Well, just let me give you an example
of really how bad your working memory is, and mine, for that case. I want you to imagine this situation. You’re at the train station,
waiting for the train. You can see it coming on the horizon. You’re fiddling away, you finally
find where you put your ticket. And you take it out, and you go,
‘Car five, seat 42. Got it.’ Have you? (Laughter) You have absolutely no idea
where you’re going to sit, do you? So, you’re like, ‘Is this only me, or …
Well, I’ll check. Five, 42.’ You put it down again. Have you got it? No, you haven’t got it. You’ll do this on an average of six times
before you sit down. I’ve seen people in the train go, ‘Five, 42, five, 42.
Yes, this is my seat, check.’ Now, the bad news
in the situation is this: you do not have a separate
working memory for PowerPoint and a separate working
memory for train tickets. It’s the same dismally bad
working memory for both activities. So, I might be harsh when I say this, but there is one man on this earth who knows more about the brain
than anybody else, one of the most leading neurologists
called John Medina, and he puts it like this. [If companies would have
as little respect for business as they have for presentations, the majority would go bankrupt.] And it’s with his words that I welcome you
to ‘How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint’. Now, my objective for this evening,
for these 18 minutes, is to give you five design principles that will cognitively and psychologically
optimise your PowerPoint slides. And if you haven’t used them before, they will make a tremendous difference to every PowerPoint you’ll be delivering
from this day and on. So, let’s start. The first one of these five
is one message. I received this from a customer, and I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got
a lot of issues in here, but let’s start with the first one. You’ve got two messages. Let’s move one of them out of the way,
and just bring one message per slide.’ So, why should we only
have one message per slide? Well, I’ll give you
this beautiful example. You’re at this nice party,
you’ve got the music going boom-boom, you’ve got this person
you’re chatting away to, you’re having a good time. (Imitates chatter) And then you hear your name;
you hear your name spoken somewhere. Your entire attention
is now diverted in that direction, and with this person,
you’re just nodding away hoping that you’re nodding
in the right instances, yeah? Yes, yes, yes. After a minute, this one
stops talking about you, so you divert your attention
straight again. Now, that person will then say,
‘Well, don’t you agree?’ And don’t we just love that situation? We have got no clue
what they’ve been talking about. The same thing goes for PowerPoint. If you’ve got more than one message, the chance is big they will be focusing
on this one and not that one, or that one and not this one. Just make it simple for human beings. Have one message per slide. We are extremely limited
to understanding more. Let’s move on. Go to working memory. I’ve already given you this bad vibe
that your working memory is bad, and I’m afraid I’m not coming
with better news. I’m coming with worse news,
and it goes like this. This equation has the basis
of John Sweller and Mayer, and they come to the conclusion that there is something in our brain
called ‘the redundancy effect’, and it works like this. If you have text, sentences
on your PowerPoint, and you persist with the annoying idea
of speaking at the same time, what will be remembered by the audience is zero. (Laughter) Or very close to zero. Now, why is that?
How does that come about? Well, it can’t look like this.
It’s just not practical. You can’t stand and have this
and talk at the same time. So, what are you supposed to do? Well, use PowerPoint
for what it’s supposed to be used for. Pick it like this, pull down your text
into the documentation field, and use the area up there
for the presentation material: short, sweet bits of text and an image. That is what enhances your image. That is what enhances your message. So use PowerPoint
as it’s supposed to be used. Come to the third
of these five principles, and that’s size. Before I go into that, I want to make you aware the following. Every time you open your eyes
for the rest of your life, you will focus on four things: moving objects, signalling colours,
like red, orange and yellow, contrast-rich objects and big objects
for the rest of your life. Give you a practical example of that. Imagine yourself being home
with a friend, a really good friend. Now, the television is on,
but the sound is off. You’re having a great conversation, but do you find it easy
to not look at the television? No. Why not? Because it’s got moving objects, it’s got signalling colours,
it’s high in contrast, and they’re usually very big these times. So, why not use this to our benefit? If you look at this,
where is your attention drawn to without you even having a chance
of controlling it? It’s going to the big three all the time. Have a look at the practical situation;
have a look at this. Where are your eyes drawn to? I can see that they’re drawn
constantly to the headline. Now, how often is the headline
the most important part in a PowerPoint? It’s very rare. Even so, every PowerPoint template
is built like this, where the headline is the biggest object,
and the content is the smallest – going absolute opposite
to our biological reactions. So, what does this look like
if we just show you an example? Well, now I’ve reduced the title,
and it looks like this. Do you see how your eyes
now fall down into the content? Now they’re sucked into the headline, (Laughter) and now they’re falling down
into the content. So I can control exactly where you are, but why do people build PowerPoints where people will be spending
70% of the time on the headline when it’s not the most important part? So, what I want you
to take with you from this is the most important part
of your PowerPoint should also be the biggest, nothing else. Moving on to number four, contrast. Contrast controls your focus. So, what does that look like? For instance, if I show you
a list like this, your eyes are over the place because you don’t really know
what to focus on. So, I’ll use a built-in functionality
into PowerPoint, which goes like this. I’ll show you the first subject,
I’ll take it away with contrast, and I’ll show you the second one, and I’ll do it again and again
and again and again. You’re now following
exactly the white spot. If I do this – dun-dun-dun-dun – I can see your eyes just wobbling around, and you’re a bit like a kitten going after
a little laser pointer on the wall, going like, ‘Where is it?
I’ve got it. I’ve got it.’ Because you’re following
where the white spot is, and not the rest. Now, this is a beautiful example. Please do use this. Use it because you can show
amazing big tables like this if you use the effect of contrast,
the principle of contrast. Look what this looks like. Your eyes are all over the place;
you don’t know what to focus on, but I just apply
the principle of contrast, and it looks like that, and suddenly,
you know exactly what to focus on. Here, they’re all over the place, and here, they’re exactly
where I want them. Now, there’s a big,
major drawback with PowerPoints, and that is that the majority
of companies on this earth today, they persist in having
white backgrounds in PowerPoint. Look at that. Oh, it’s bright, it’s shiny. Could you tell me who has
the highest contrast, me or the screen? Well, the screen. Who’s usually the biggest,
me or the screen? Well, the screen. So the only option I have
is dress myself up in signalling colours (Laughter) and jump around on stage
in order to balance that problem out, and that is obviously not
a good corporate strategy in the long term, would it be? I think the long-term strategy
is to just switch it around. PowerPoint is not supposed
to have white backgrounds. If I do this, your eyes relax. You focus on me. I’m the biggest object. I’m the most contrast-rich object. I got your focus. Why is that important? It’s important because I am,
I always have been, and I always will be the presentation. That is my visual aid. Moving into the last principle,
and that is objects. Now, this is one
of the most severe principles, and it goes like this. How many objects do I have here? If you count them quickly,
you’ll see that I’ve got 16. Do you see this little beauty
at the end as well which goes ‘page 12 of 95’? What is that? Why do we do that? That only creates anxiety. If anything, you are, ‘Oh my god,
I can’t take 83 more of those.’ (Laughter) But, it can also create hope because imagine … imagine when it’s 90 out of 95. ‘Oh, I can see the lights;
I can see the end of the tunnel.’ Kidding aside, don’t do that. Now, there are so many ideas out there on how many objects
you’re supposed to have in PowerPoint, and once and for all,
I just want to put my foot down and state to you
that this is the perfect amount. In order to do that,
I want you to just feel it yourself. How many objects are you supposed to have? And we’re going to do that
by showing you a couple of balls. I’ll throw up the balls. I want you to nod to me
when you’ve counted them. Simple instruction. You with me? Cool, here we go. Boom. Alright, takes you about two seconds. Good. Well done. Your next set of balls. Count them, and nod to me
when you’ve counted them. Here we go. Excellent. Yeah. That took you about 1.2 seconds
if you’re normal, which about 90% of you seem to be. (Laughter) We’ll have the third
set of balls, the last one. Look at this, nod to me
when you’ve counted them. Oh, what was that? I just pressed the button,
and you nodded simultaneously. That will, if you are normal,
take you 0.2 seconds, two-tenths of a second. This will take you 1.2,
this will take you two-tenths of a second. And for anyone of you who –
you’re good at math, you’ll find out that that number
is approximately 500% difference. How is that even remotely possible? There are only two objects in difference. Well, might I suggest the following: this one you have to count, and this one you see. Could that be correct? So what you’ve just experienced
is the following: that the cognitive process of counting takes 500% longer time,
requires 500% more energy resources to execute than just seeing. So, what I want you
to keep in mind at all times, what I want you to keep
in your head is this: [Sex] which is the Swedish number for this: [Six] (Laughter) The magical number is six. It’s not five, it’s not seven, it’s six. And I want to make you aware of this. When you go into
a presentation in the future, and you’ve built this amazing PowerPoint, if you’ve got more than seven objects,
or seven or more objects, you have to be aware
that all the people in there, they have to use 500% more energy
and cognitive resources to understand what’s in your PowerPoint. Now, how do you think their energy-saving brain
by nature behaves? Will it go like, ‘Ooh, I’ll easily
invest 500% more cognitive resources to understand this weird slide’ or, ‘I won’t’? ‘I won’t.’ And you’ve just incurred
death by PowerPoint. Now what does this look like in real life? Well, have a look at this. Sixteen objects – can we agree
that that’s too many? Yes, we can. So, what does it look like
if we reduce it? Look at this. We go from this to this. And this is where your brain goes, ‘Ahh’. And this is where your brain goes, ‘Ugh’. Ahh. (Laughter) Ugh. And I assume that in the future when you deliver PowerPoints
to your colleagues, to your fellow people, you want them to go, ‘Ahh’ when you show them your slides. You don’t want them to go, ‘Ugh’. Now, there is – have you seen this movie, ‘The Rain Man’ by Dustin Hoffman? Seen that? It’s a beauty, isn’t it? He comes into this cafeteria,
and somebody drops toothpicks, and he goes like, ‘Boom, 247.’ It’s amazing, isn’t it? His perceptive limit is here. Your perceptive limit (Laughter) is here. Now, what amazes me is that whichever country I go to,
whichever company I see, it seems like they build PowerPoints in the hope that all their fellow
colleagues are autistic or savants, (Laughter) which obviously is not the case. So, but then you go like this,
‘But, David, my god. This means that I have
to have more slides.’ (Laughter) ‘Yes, that is entirely correct. You have understood me clearly.’ I want to make one thing clear here, and that is that the amount of slides
in your PowerPoint has never been the problem. It is the amount of objects per slide
which has been the problem. The stupid idea that corporate organisations
all over the world – they’ve come up
with limitations going like, ‘Ooh, we’ve got this clever idea: You can’t use 40 slides.
You can only use four.’ So what do people do? (Laughter) Well, they take the content
of the rest 36, and they jam it in the first four. My god, is that counterproductive or what? And we call ourselves intelligent. No, no. Alright, so compared – I started off with 95 of those. We ended up with 135 of these. And yes, it gave an immediate result to the application
that we were working for. So, to summarise this. Let’s have some fun
and do a cross-examination because obviously
I have to prove my point. Do you remember
more than 90% of what I said? I’m not going to be that harsh. Let’s do a crossword instead. It’s going to go like this. Words are going to come up. I’m going to ask you to scream them out
as loud as you can as we go along. How many messages
are you supposed to have per slide? (Audience) One. One. Very good. (Laughter) I think you were looking
for a different word there. (Laughter) What can we use to steer our focus? (Audience) Contrast. Yes, and another one? (Audience) Size. Well done. What should we avoid using
if speaking at the same time? (Audience) Sentences. Beautiful. And what kind of background
should we have? We should have dark. And finally, now you can say it. How many objects per slide? Six. That is magnificent. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheers)

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