Jamie Oliver calls for all-out assault on our ignorance of food
The secret to great work is great play

We learn from stories and experience

Experience.001 When it comes to learning and genuinely retaining something, nothing beats experiences. Formal educational or speaking settings don't always allow for actual hands-on experience with the content, but almost every learning situation — including presentation in various forms — does permit the use of stories. Stories that illustrate the content and bring people in, enabling them to "experience" the material in an engaging, visual, and imaginative way. A way that will be remembered. One can use analogy, or metaphor, or the verbal reenactment of actual, relevant events that illuminate and make the material more real and more memorable. Stories have an emotional component and when you engage people's emotions, even just a little bit, you stand a better chance of them paying attention and remembering your point (whether or not they agree with you is another matter entirely).

People remember when emotions are triggered
Class_preso 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
Sign_maui 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.

Warning  Warning2
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
Tysonquote 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.



Right on.

In my opinion, there are extremely few teachers who actually adopt to this mindset. During my 5 years at the University, I've came across maybe 3 who actually inspired me. Since I've probably had at least 100 different teachers during this period, this isn't such a good ratio.

Anyway, keep the posts comming. I promise I'll never succumb to lethargy when acting as a techer (and hopefully not in other situations either).

Jeff Kinsey

Love the name: "Presentation Zen"

Says it all. Loved the note in this post about field trips. I can probably remember every such trip I have taken, going back to grade school, but cannot remember what I had for lunch today!

Thanks for sharing.


P.S. Also made me think of the book, "Made to Stick."

R. L. Howser

There is a lot of research that shows our brains are unable to tell the difference between an event imagined with rich sensory and emotional detail and a real event.

Just as athletes and entertainers can use visualization exercises as a practice or rehearsal technique, a well told story can trigger all the same emotional reactions that actually experiencing the event would have, and evoke the depth of engagement, and consequent memory formation, that the signs in Hawaii did in you.


"stay back" "steep cliff" nice caution


I like your first sentence "When it comes to learning and genuinely retaining something, nothing beats experiences." There is a movement in education towards STEM learning (Sicence, Technology, Engineering, Math), which I think is really amazing. It's not so much a lesson, but a new way of teaching. One non-profit I've done some pro-bono work for is http://www.pastfoundation.org It's all about experience learning. They are now funded by Gates, which is great, but I still wish programs like these got more visibility. I know people would take advantage of these opportunities if the message was conveyed properly.

Boris Gloger

Thanks for reminding me on this topic. I try to use Stroytelling as part of my teaching and consulting all the time. Recently I was told by my coach that you can "play" the story while you are "on stage".

That means you can bring more emphasis, more enthusiasm to your talk and presentation when you play with your body what you are talking about.

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