As I have said many times: if you want to learn how to be a great presenter, look outside the public-speaking and presentation-skills literature, and certainly look beyond advice on how to use ephemeral software apps like PowerPoint and Keynote. Every year it seems a new book comes out with practical applications for presenters and speakers, even though it's not a book about presentations at all. For example, best-selling books like A Whole New Mind, and Made to Stick had valuable lessons and applications for presenters; some of the ideas from those two books ended up in Presentation Zen. This year, thanks to the Authors@Google speaking series (where I also spoke in March), I stumbled across this 50-minute talk by Dr. John Medina outlining a few of his key points from Brain Rules. I was impressed with the content, so I bought the book. Then I read the book, and was blown away. In a way, we already know the rules put forth by Dr. Medina in his book, such as vision is the dominant sense (rule#10). We certainly know the power of the visual — a picture is worth a thousand words, etc. — yet we fail to take advantage of this properly in the area of presentation design, web design, document design, and so on. We all know that people don't pay attention to boring things (rule #4), yet the majority of presentations on this planet are less than compelling (to say the least).
Using our brains
Because most of us are not brain scientists, we have virtually no knowledge of how the brain works. If we did, we wouldn't try to drive and use our cell phones at the same time, or create high-stress office environments, or design schools where most of the real learning is done at home, or live on 3-5 hours of sleep a night, etc. What Brain Rules attempts to do is explain what brain scientists know about the brain in ways that we can use to improve our daily lives at school and work. I highly recommend the book. Brain Rules is one of the most informative, engaging, and useful books of our time. Required reading for every educator and every business person. My favorite book of 2008. Seriously – if you can get only one book this year, make it this one. At about 20 bucks on Amazon.com (with a nice DVD with useful video segments), it's a great value. Still, depending on where you are in the world or your current economic situation, even $20-30 is a lot more than free. But you're in luck. John Medina was very gracious in building such a good website and giving many of the ideas from the book away for free on his site and in videos on YouTube. And the Google talk has some good stuff too. The segments on the website also cite the sources of the original research.
12 brain rules
All 12 brain rules have practical applications for our personal and professional lives. I read the book (twice, so far) with presentations in mind. I created a slide presentation below which is a rough compilation of some key ideas and quotes from just three of the chapters. (1) Exercise. People who exercise "outperform couch potatoes in long-term memory, reasoning, attention, and problem solving," says Medina. (2) Attention. "You've got seconds to grab someone's attention and only 10 minutes to keep it." (3) Vision. "Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images." People should "burn their PowerPoint presentations," says Medina, "and make new ones."
Above: I started creating slides to use for my own talks based on some of the ideas in Brain Rules, then I thought I might as well share them. The slides may make better sense if you read the book or spend some time on brainrules.com. This deck is meant to be viewed online in about 10-12 minutes or less; it contains far more text than I would use in a talk. (Note: for some reason some of the slides got resized a bit in the Slideshare viewer which ruins some of the "animation." But if you download the PDF deck the slides look fine.).
Brain Rules video clips
The Brain Rules book includes a nice bonus DVD. Below are a few clips from the DVD related to the three rules I focused on in the presentation. After an introduction of the Brain Rules objective, this clip discusses the importance of the first rule, exercise. (YouTube link.)
Attention: the myth of multitasking
We can do many things at once, but when it comes to paying attention, is "multitasking" really effective? (YouTube link.)
Vision trumps all other senses
The power of images. How can we communicate more with visuals? (YouTube link.)
Death by PowerPoint
As much as possible, make it visual...bullets can be dangerous.(YouTube link.)
• Seattle Times interview with Dr. Medina by Richard Seven
• One chapter and videos on iTunes
• Brain Rules on YouTube
• 12 brain rules from his website
• Harvard Business Review on Brain Rules
• Brain Rules in the media, podcasts, etc.
Other books I highly recommend
They're not about PowerPoint or presentations/public speaking, but they'll help improve your presentations.
• The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media
• Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data
• Universal Principles of Design