Tag Archives: content development

Data Display of the Day: How does the brain retain information?

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Audience retention and application are top concerns for presenters of all forms–teachers, public speakers, leaders, interviewees. Ensuring that our audiences not only retain the information we present to them but also find a way to apply and implement that information through experience is what drives much of our content development, visual design, and delivery processes. There are several models available to us that can help us understand how to create content that our audience will retain including the Made to Stick model I’ve previously discussed and John Medina’s brilliant Brain Rules. In this introductory video to the Brain Rules concept and the first rule, “Exercise boosts brain power,” Medina explains just why we need to understand how the brain works in order to best maximize its potential–in essence, it’s because our modern business and educational environments are designed to work against our natural brain rules (cubicles, stationary desks in sterile classrooms).

Today’s data display, which comes by way of Daily Infographic, provides further insight into the brain, how it works, and how it retains information. Created by mindflash.com, “How does the brain retain information?” first explains where information is stored in the brain. As presenters, we should recognize that how we structure and present our content will appeal to a different part of the brain (literally, it will cause our electrical systems to fire neurons in that particular portion of the brain). For instance, when we use pathos or ideas that appeal to emotion, we are tapping into the amygdala (which also happens to be the root of presentation anxiety); when we apply the picture superiority effect, we fire a complex series of actions in the cortical structures of our audiences’ brains: the occipital lobe processes the visual information, the parietal lobe pairs that visual with the text on that visual, and if we do our work well, the frontal and temporal lobes store that information in our working and long-term memory (hence why applying the picture superiority effect–pairing image and text together leads to 65% greater retention of information).

So that’s where the brain stores information, but how does it actually store that information and retain it? The second part of today’s infographic describes a working theory for this process, which is still somewhat of a mystery. What is interesting about this complex system is that everything begins with electrical impulses.  In a flash, the brain reacts to external stimuli, synapses fire, and the brain then sorts and stores information into short term, working, and long term memory. Check out the infographic below and consider how your content, visuals, and delivery impact your audience’s ability to turn your information into working or long-term memory aka retention.



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Slideshare Debut: Ideate!

After several weeks of work designing, revising, and receiving critique, I am proud to launch my latest deck on Slideshare.net, “Ideate! Create and Develop World-Changing Ideas.” Check it out below or on Slideshare.net. As for me, it’s time to get back to grading and wrapping up the new PCP instruction sheets. Happy Wednesday!

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Body of Work: Spring Projects

March marks the beginning of the creative leg of this year’s Body of Work development. I am working on creating assignments for the reboot of Professional Communication and Presentation online, designing the course calendar, and planning lessons. The launch is in April and I cannot wait!

In addition, I am working on a new deck that will debut in March. The subject of this deck is content development and is based on my content development series from 2013. Below is a preview of the deck. I am working on blending photography and iconography, and trying to find a balance between the two has been particularly rewarding. Creating consistency and unity when using two types of visual support can be a challenge, but using iconography from the Noun Project has helped me better represent ideas for which I cannot find photographs. I’ve also been creating my own icons for this project and drawing out ideas for icons I cannot find and must create.

Design elements; Network designed by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project, Brain designed by Linda Yuki Nakanishi from The Noun Project, Earth by  NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Design elements; Network designed by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project, Brain designed by Linda Yuki Nakanishi from The Noun Project, Earth by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

In choosing a color scheme, I wanted to blend the calm productivity and creativity-generating blue with some vibrancy and positivity. To achieve that, I chose both orange and yellow-toned gold as my contrast color. Gold also represents wisdom and knowledge and the sharing of these ideas with others. In choosing typefaces for the project, I’d initially used District Pro Thin by Garage Fonts alone. But, since this is the only weight of that font available for use  and it’s important for me to create some type contrast, I am balancing out the lightness and sleekness of District Pro Thin with Intro by FontFabric. I love the geometric simplicity and impact of this typeface. It looks particularly good with a small bit of text and a large image behind.

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This is the current title slide; I’d love to keep working to find something with even more visual pop

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This is my favorite slide so far. I am using it to represent that one idea that is a game changer in the creative process, the idea that can change the world.

Finally, in April, I plan on creating my first “slidedoc” using Nancy Duarte’s new infoproduct, Slidedocs. I created a course structure document to inform others of the changes PCP is undergoing. However, the document is extremely text-heavy and dense. Most readers are unsure what to look at first, which is of course not what I am going for. So, I am going to use the principles learned in Slidedocs to recreate the document in Keynote. I will then use this document to train instructors on how to teach the new PCP.

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What makes a STAR moment shine?

Your audience should always leave your presentation with something they’ll always remember. But, what does it actually take to create a memorable STAR moment?

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In her landmark text on developing persuasive and engaging content, Resonate, Nancy Duarte devotes an entire chapter to what she calls STAR moments, those moments in a presentation when an audience truly achieves shared meaning with a presenter. According to Duarte, a STAR moment should “dramatically drive the big idea home” (Source), and it should be a “significant, sincere, and enlightening” (Source) moment that imprints the audience so much so that they spread and share the big idea long after the presentation ends. In teaching this particular presentation strategy, I’ve found that one can codify and define the types of actions that serve as STAR moments: memorable dramatizations, like Bill Gates releasing mosquitos on a TED conference audience; emotive storytelling, like Jill Bolte Taylor’s dynamic recreation of her massive brain stroke; evocative visuals, like Lisa Kristine’s hauntingly beautiful images of a few of the 28 million people enslaved throughout the world; repeatable sound bites like Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I have a dream…”; and shocking statistics, like Michael Pollan’s revelation that 28 oz of crude oil go into making each and every one of those quarter pounders with cheese sold at McDonalds every day. But, I’ve also learned that one can define a set of qualities that all of these strategies embody.

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So, these are excellent examples of types of STAR moments, but what makes a STAR moment actually memorable? What is it about what these and other great speakers do that leads to that mental hook in the audience? A former student, Elianna Bentz, led a class discussion several months ago that really helped put the qualities of a strong STAR moment into an easily digestible format. A STAR Moment should be Simple, Transferable, Audience-centered, Repeatable, and Meaningful.

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The job of the STAR moment is often to take a very complicated problem and break it down to its simplest, most human, most transparent form. Chip and Dan Heath believe simplicity starts by removing superfluous elements and getting to the core of an idea. They compare it to the way a journalist writes an article–the lead comes first, and is not buried by complexities (Source). In the same way, a STAR moment has to be straightforward and evocative. Take for example Benjamin Zander’s STAR moment in the TED talk below. To help the audience understand the technicality of music, he demoes what piano playing is like at different ages and breaks down a prelude by Chopin note by note. But, to help the audience understand just how impacting classical music can be, before he plays the piece a second time, he asks the audience to imagine a lost loved one. The first time I did this, I was in tears. I’ve watched the speech now each month for four years and its impact is never the same unless I succumb to Zander’s request.


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A STAR moment cannot exist in the vacuum of the speaker’s own mind and heart; it’s emotional impact has to be transferred to the audience so that they can internalize it. According to Duarte, a STAR moment is “rehearsed and planned to have just the right amount of analytical and emotional appeal to engage both the minds and hearts of an audience” (Source). Bill Gates’ 2009 TED talk contains such a moment. After establishing the problem–malaria is a worldwide problem (200 million are affected), but because the people affected do not have the wealth and resources to stop the problem, not enough is being done. To transfer the impact of this problem to a room full of TEDsters, wealthy folks who cannot necessarily relate to or understand the problem, he releases mosquitos into the audience, stating “there’s no reason only poor people should have the experience” (Source). Brilliant transference!


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A great STAR moment requires audience-analysis and audience adaptation.Why? Because without audience analysis and adaptation, how can a speaker truly know what will impact his or her target audience, what will push through the wall of bias and resistance present in each audience member, what will be easily understood by the audience? The last day of Professional Communication and Presentation is Ignite presentation day. Two days ago, I witnessed one of the strongest STAR moments. Shayna wanted to communicate to her classmates that while they are all a product of the environments they came from, such a truth does not necessarily mean one has to be a slave to that idea or to what one learned as a result of one’s upbringing. She began her presentation by describing what it means to be a slave; she wore chains around her arms while she described this concept. For the next two minutes of her presentation she established her big idea, used storytelling, statistics, facts, and examples to support her big idea. She then told the story of having lost friends and family to drug abuse and how these experiences led her to act, to break her chains. She then threw the chains wrapped around her arms down. The reaction from her classmates was audible–the air literally went out of the room. By the end of her presentation, she had her audience in tears, fired up and ready to take control of their destinies.

Repeatable and Meaningful

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Finally, a STAR moment (if it embodies the first three qualities) must be easily repeatable/describable and also meaningful enough that the audience must repeat it. According to Duarte, “a carefully crafted sound bite can work as a STAR moment–not only for those who attend your presentation, but also for those who encounter it second hand” (Source). One of the most beautiful, repeatable, and meaningful STAR moments of our time is the repetition in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” Dr. King, who spoke this portion of the speech extemporaneously and without a pre-written set of points (Clarence Jones describes the moment when King pushed his speech aside and spoke from the heart in this NPR interview). What made it repeatable was the simplicity of the phrase; what made it meaningful is that he was vocalizing America’s collective dream of the future. In order to help the audience visualize a positive future, motivate them to action, inspire their waning spirits, and tie the dream of desegregation to the long line of America’s dream, King repeats the phrase and follows it with what Nancy Duarte calls “new bliss,” a visualization of the world with his idea in place. This phrase has become part of our cultural consciousness in the United States and it helped reinvigorate the hearts and minds of King’s followers.

So, by choosing a type of STAR moment and then ensuring it meets the qualities above, you too can create a moment that shines on long after you say “Thank you for your time. Any questions?”

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Content Development: Crafting a Big Idea

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Previously on Tweak Your Slides, I covered the basics of idea creation and idea generation. Once you have engaged in divergent and convergent thinking and narrowed your topic choices down to the one topic that best fits in with your experience, your passions, and your audience’s needs, it’s time to  analyze your audience, and then develop a central theme, thesis, or big idea to guide the presentation development process.

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What is a big idea?

Whether you call it a thesis, controlling idea, theme, or main point, a strong persuasive presentation begins with a clearly articulated and assertive big idea. The big idea is what forms the basis for the rest of the presentation. Without a clear sense of what your purpose is in presenting your logic, emotional points, and credibility, your presentation flounders and your audience remains confused and unsure. Presentation expert Nancy Duarte discusses a big idea in Chapter 4 of her second book, Resonate“a big idea is that one key message you want to communicate. It contains the impetus that compels the audience to set a new course with a new compass heading” (Source). So, a big idea includes not only the core of a presentation’s purpose, but it also contains the exigency or necessity of that message as it relates to the audience. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick and creators of the SUCCESs acronym (Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories) refer to this as the core of the message. The process of brainstorming and then drafting a big idea is known as “finding the core,” which “means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence” (Source). “Finding the core” is central to crafting a successful “sticky” message:

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This process, however, does not mean that a big idea needs to be dumbed down. The Heath brothers make a clear distinction between simple and simplistic. A strong big idea is about “elegance and prioritization, not about dumbing down” (Source).

What makes for a strong big idea?

In addition to ensuring a big idea is simple, elegant, and essential, Duarte provides three (really four) basic keys to crafting a strong big idea (Source). A big idea should:

1. Communicate your unique POV on a topic

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Instead of simply presenting a topic: “ways to go green”, a strong big idea provides the presenter’s unique point of view on the general topic (for instance, “using reusable bags can save the environment”). The idea doesn’t have to be outrageous to be interesting, merely unique and personal. This is so often why choosing a topic you already know lots about and that really matters to you is a good starting point for idea creation. It is easier to communicate a unique perspective on a topic you know well.

2. Convey what’s at stake, or, pass the “so what?” test

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So, it’s great that you have a unique perspective, but why should your audience care about that perspective? The second important piece to crafting a strong big idea is what’s at stake aka necessity aka exigency aka so what? For your audience to truly adopt a perspective on a topic, they have to understand how their participation in your perspective is needed, what could be lost or gained if your perspective is put into action, and why they should act in the first place. If we return to our previous topic, what does the audience gain by using reusable bags? what happens if they don’t? why does their choice matter?

3. Be a complete sentence

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If we think of the first two parts of a big idea as an equation or formula, the third is the solution, the two parts joined and expressed as one simple, complete thought. Duarte suggests that the pronoun “you” be part of this construct. Doing this helps you ensure that the big idea is for the audience. When we take the first two pieces of of our sample big idea above, we can formulate our core, our big idea:

Part One:

I want you to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

Part Two:

Reusable bags are better for the environment because they reduce the number of plastic bags produced and used; they also save time and strain when shopping (4 plastic to 1 reusable).

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

One final important aspect of a strong big idea is emotion. According to Duarte, “[ultimately], there are only two emotions–pleasure and pain. A truly persuasive presentation plays on those emotions” to either increase pain and lower pleasure if the audience does not adopt the perspective, or to increase pleasure and lower pain if the audience adopts the big idea (Source).

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In the next content development series, we’ll explore the acronym SUCCESs further and discuss how it relates to creating strong persuasive content.

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