Why your brain prefers Prezi

Tomorrow, I have another random collection of meetings to attend.  If all goes true to form, I will end the day suffering from acute death-by-PowerPoint.  There’s just something about having to sit through slide after slide after slide that makes you want to leave your brain in a bucket when entering the room and pick it up again on the way out.  But why does Mickeysoft’s ubiquitous tool have such an effect on us?

The answer may lie in neuroscience.  According to a study by Sam Moulton and his colleagues at Harvard, the main reason is probably that PowerPoint just isn’t very brain-friendly.  In their rather elegantly-simple experiments, Moulton et al. found that PowerPoint was no more aesthetically pleasing than a speaker simply talking without any visual aids, but the more dynamic Prezi package which rated significantly higher.  Why?  Well, on the basis of what we know about the neuropsychology of perception, the authors argue that whereas fairly static media such as PowerPoint do manage to stimulate the ventral visual system (involved in processing colour, form, etc.), the zooming and panning involved in a Prezi presentation also stimulates the dorsal visual system (which processes spatial information).  Achieve both at once as Prezi does and you are on to a winner in terms of both engaging the audience and achieving a pleasing neurological response.

The study also had some interesting takeaways in terms of the use of animation.  The odd bit of this can make a presentation a little more interesting, but that can quickly become very irritating when overdone.  This is because of the ventral-only stimulation associated with packages such as PowerPoint and Keynote.  Prezi tends not to evoke such a reaction, however, because the dorsal stimulation is neurologically and aesthetically pleasing.

Most interestingly, perhaps, this dual-stimulation also has a positive impact on the speaker’s audience reception.  Moulton and his colleagues didn’t find any difference in how well the content of a presentation was understood or remembered, but they did find that audience members rated the presenter as a more credible and likeable message source.  And, as we know from the literature on marketing communications, the messenger plays a huge role in whether a message resonates with the recipient and stimulates a sale.

So, next time you have a big presentation to do, especially if it’s for a job interview or a sales pitch, remember to go ventral and dorsal simultaneously if you want to win!

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