People remember when emotions are triggered
Early this week four students in my Japanese labor management class did a presentation on employment security in Japan. Three days later when I asked other students to recall the most salient points of the presentation, what they said they remembered most vividly were not the labor laws or the principles and the changes in the labor market in Japan, but rather the topic of karoshi and the issue of suicides in Japan, topics that were quite minor points in the hour-long presentation. Yet death-from-over-work and suicide are extremely emotional topics that are not often discussed. The presenters cited actual cases (i.e., told stories) of karoshi and suicide which also attributed to these relatively small points being remembered most in people's mind.
Stories get your attention and make it real
In January this year we drove the Hana Road (one of the most beautiful places in the world) to the 'Ohe'o Gulch Falls at Haleakala National Park in Kipahulu. The falls look inviting and are usually calm, but to warn the tourists of the great dangers that lurk, large warnings signs have been installed to advise people to use great caution. Of course, people often ignore warning signs like this or think that the dangers are abstractions that happen to other people, if they happen at all. What I found very effective was that the park service included real newspaper clippings of actual deadly accidents that had occurred there recently. I know it was effective because people read these articles and you could see the look of concern on their faces. I usually would only glance at such signs, but I stayed there and read every word. I felt sad for the victims who were no longer abstractions but real people with names and hometowns, they were mothers, and sons, and so on. Reading the actual accounts of what could happen — what did happen — stopped me in my tracks. It was informative but also emotional. In this case, those things together made quite an impact and the content was memorable.
The sign on the left features actual newspaper clippings in the design which underscores the dangers by making it more emotional, real, and memorable.
Teaching and presenting with emotion and enthusiasm
Here is a wonderful podcast with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (famous astrophysicist and one of my heroes) that all humans should listen to. In this interview on science literacy, Dr. Tyson touches on the issue of experience and emotion and the importance of enthusiasm. Again, experience may be best, but we can also use storytelling and other methods to get people's emotions involved and to get them more engaged with the content in a deeper, even exploratory way. It is not enough to give people information, we must stimulate their imaginations. Presentations and class lessons are ephemeral and short. As much as anything else, shouldn't we be stimulating people in a way that inspires and encourages them to go out and learn and discover more about our topic on their own at their pace and in a way best suited for them? Bullet point slides, for example, rarely inform, are hardly ever memorable, and never inspire action (unless that action is taking a nap). Below is an excerpt from the fantastic interview with Dr. Tyson.
"Research and education has shown that field trips are remembered long into adulthood. Why? Because you’re experiencing something rather than simply reading it in a book…. To experience something has a far more profound effect on your ability to remember and influence you than if you simply read it in a book. So why not figure out a way to turn a lesson plan into a living expression of that content. A living expression, so that sparks can be ignited and flames can be fanned within the students. And at that point, it doesn’t matter what grade they get on the exam because they are stimulated to want to learn more. If they didn’t learn all the “A” stuff for that exam, they’re inspired enough to go out and buy a book or spend more time on the documentary that they saw on the Discovery Channel or on PBS. And there it is. You’ve cast a learner into the world. And that’s the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher. The enthusiastic teacher is fundamental to igniting flames of interest in any student in any subject. So that’s not a special need within the call for science literacy. That’s a need for all teachers in all subjects."
— Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
Listen to the entire interview here.
NOTE: Moving forward presentationzen.com will be updated about twice a week. But if you are interested, I update my more personal blog — ichi-go-ichi-e— a couple of times a day, usually with iPhone photos of life in Japan.