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A study about how little we can recall concepts from a presentation.

A study about how little we can recall concepts from a presentation.



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    • ARE YOU MEMORABLE? Dr. Carmen Simon How many slides do people really remember? Four experiments examined the role of the isolation effect in predicting superior recall for isolated slides in aABSTRACT PowerPoint deck. Results showed that participants recalled on average 4 slides from a text-only deck, and recalled slides were not at random; they followed a pattern. Memory improved when neutral images were added to text-only slides. Recall rate did not exceed the cap of 4 remembered slides regardless of deck manipulations, such as changing background colors, alternating text-only and text and visual slides, or replacing neutral visuals with emotional visuals. There was a correlation between isolated slides and recalled slides when slides were changed every 5th slide. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 01
    • [ R ES E A R C H QUESTIONS [RQ1 How many slides will people remember from a deck of text-only, 20 slides?RQ2 Will the inclusion of neutral visuals improve memory?RQ3 Will people remember the same slides or will memory differ from person to person?RQ4 Will visual distinctiveness every nth slide improve recall?RQ5 Is there a correlation between visually distinct slides and recall rate? “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.“ -Herbert Simon Nobel Prize laureate ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 02
    • FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS USE POWERPOINT!The famous article with this title, published by ThomasStewart in Fortune a decade ago, made a strong Many content creators currently use PowerPoint to post standalone, on-demand presentations. Two of the mostimpression on PowerPoint users, by categorizing prevalent fields for standalone PowerPoint-based filesthe tool as intellectually impaired, confusing, and are in the corporate arena, where businesses publishoverall disguising the speaker under uniform and promotional content; and online universities, whichoverly simplified templates. Other catchy titles in the publish instructional content.media such as Killing Me Microsoftly or PowerPointIs Evil continually capture and condemn the robotic 54% of participants reporteddisplay of bullet points and the truncated languagetypical of slideware. To emphasize the dubious nature experiencing a “high”” when spendingof PowerPoint, critics use strong phrases such as“deadening sameness,” “vacuous monotony,” “the time online.Viagra of the spoken word”—overall, a product that hasled to a “general decline in public speaking.” Standalone electronic content has become popular in part because people seem to seek it. AccordingOther critics agree that PowerPoint separates the to Nielsen research, while spending a minimum of 60presenter from the audience, diminishes a presentation’s hours a month online, people spend 42% of that timeanalytical quality, leads to more preoccupation with viewing online content. In another investigation of 1,000format over content, and “instead of lifting the floor, managers worldwide, 54% of participants reportedit lowers the ceiling.” Over the past few decades, experiencing a “high” when spending time online andPowerPoint has been particularly criticized when finding information they are seeking. It is consequentlypresentations are used in face-to-face environments. no surprise that many viewers are searching andHowever, in the past five years, a new trend has viewing PowerPoint files. This is evidenced by the factemerged: PowerPoint-based content has been delivered that approximately 10,000 on-demand PowerPointas a standalone option, without the need for a speaker. presentations are published monthly and worldwide. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 03
    • Unfortunately, increased demand and availability of academia professionals alike: (1) Ubiquitous use ofcontent has also led to information overload, defined as PowerPoint for presentation design and informationthe inability to process multiple communication inputs, processing, particularly as a standalone offering; (2)which in turn can lead to emotional and cognitive A dichotomy in viewer information processing habits:breakdown. In a survey of 124 managers from various on one hand, people seem to crave information, andprofessional fields in Australia, Hong Kong, the U.K., on the other, they are overwhelmed by it; and (3) Theand the U.S., information overload was recognized availability of PowerPoint-based presentations that areas a top professional issue, connected to difficulty or marked by too much similarity, making it more difficultimpossibility in managing information (62%), irrelevance for messages to stand out.or unimportance of most of it (53%), and lack of timeto understand it (32%). Over the long term, information These observations invite the question: how does oneoverload can lead to mental exhaustion, decreased distinguish a particular presentation, given existingattention span, poor decision-making, and burnout. informational noise and competition? And knowing that PowerPoint is a content delivery staple, how doesGiven that currently many sources of information one bridge cognitive psychology, communication,compete against each other and are often similar in education, and commerce to develop more memorablecontent and format, providing the optimal amount and PowerPoint presentations?type of information for either business or academiaaudiences may mean long-term survival and profitability The proposed study aimed to investigate ways in whichfor corporations and academic organizations. information can be made memorable, despite current trends such as information overload, which can lead to[ [Based on the data evidenced thus far, there are inattention and which ultimately may result in lack ofthree pertinent trends that may interest business and retention. THE Does variety have benefits? STUDY Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google Inc., colorfully states: “Homogeneity is great for milk, but not for ideas.” This is the idea that led to the current study: variety may have benefits, and it is worthwhile to apply this concept to the way PowerPoint presentations are created. Figure 1 illustrates different views in which content creators can analyze their PowerPoint files. Which one is likely to draw more attention and therefore become more memorable: the one on the left, marked by variety, or the one on the right, marked by uniformity? [ F I G U R E 1] ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 04
    • Significance of the studyOne of the ways to enable content to stand out and be in different lists, and isolation is produced by embeddingpotentially more memorable is to make it incongruent an item of one type within a series of items of the otherwith the rest of the context in which it is provided. This type and noticing what happens to recall at the globaltechnique is known as the distinctiveness or isolation level of the list. This is known as the spread of theeffect in memory. The isolation effect has shown that isolation effect.items in a series can be made to stand out, and thereforebe more memorable. The significance of this study While researchers in the past have used items such asconsists of using an old theory (von Restorff isolation weights, colors, or sound frequency in order to studyeffect) in new ways: making specific PowerPoint slides the impact of distinctiveness on memory, no study hasin a series of slides stand out and be potentially more linked the concept of distinctiveness to PowerPointmemorable. slides. What happens in a specific slide may be as important as what happens before and after that slide.The concepts of information overload, cognitive To this end, the contribution to the isolation effect theoryoverload, and isolation effects are not new. However, will be made by adding a fresh perspective on visualthe novel combination of these dimensions when distinctiveness and memory applied in a new contextapplied to the realm of PowerPoint presentations, as such as PowerPoint presentations. While previousused in the corporate and academic milieus, provides research designs focused on isolating elements sucha strong contribution. The study will use scientific rigor as nonsense syllables or interspersing numbers throughto determine ways in which PowerPoint slides can be one-word items, the current design is based on isolatingmade more memorable by using the isolation effect. slides in a PowerPoint deck—a frequent means ofThis particular approach has not been attempted in any communication used in business presentations andprevious scientific research. academia.The proposed study is based on a theoretical framework Taking into consideration various views on the isolationrelated to the isolation of an item against a homogeneous theory, the current study was initiated by severalbackground, which is supposed to facilitate retention of observations:that item. This theory was initiated almost eight decadesago when von Restorff presented participants either alist of nine numbers and one syllable, or nine syllables 1 Color may influence recall when isolates are used in learning situations. 2and one number, and reported a higher recall for the Changing of “materials” may improveisolated items. This theoretical approach is called the recall (e.g., switching from text to text +von Restorff effect or isolation effect. visuals and back to text). 3Ever since this classic experiment, many other Structural organization (or spread ofresearchers have investigated the isolation effect in isolate effect) may improve recall of thedifferent variations: presenting subjects with a list overall “list.”containing the same items and changing the propertyof one of the items (e.g., different color), including anentirely different item in a list with the same items (e.g.,a number inserted in a list of words), or manipulating 4 Meaning of the isolate may lead to better recall (e.g., adding an emotionally intense image to the list).structural organization, where two item types are used The design of the current study was intended to test all What happens on a slide may be as three methods of isolation (isolation by color, isolation by material, and semantic isolation) in an intentional important as what happens before learning context. The design was selected because and after that slide. it mimics real-life content development, usage, and viewing habits for online PowerPoint files. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 05
    • Data collection in the study was based on online forms and surveys. Specifically, the following were used: 1) Online form to validate the content for the PowerPoint presentations; 2) Online forms used to administer the Calibrate free-recall test for the two benchmarked PowerPoint Content decks and the free-recall tests for each of the four formal experiments conducted to test the proposed five hypotheses. All data was captured via an online Manip system, then exported to Microsoft Excel, and analyzed ma rk ula Bench the D te with SPSS. esign Population and Sample The study used a convenience sample of 1,540 participants, selected from an existing database ofMETHODOLOGY individuals from various professional organizations. Overall, the majority of participants were female (60%),The current study applied the isolation effect in various 40% males. Most participants were 50+ years of age (43%),PowerPoint files in order to measure how many slides followed by 40–49 years of age (19%). In regard to fieldpeople remember from a PowerPoint presentation. The of work, the majority of participants came from corporatemethodology in this study was based on a direct test, (63%), followed by academia. 57% of the participants hadwhere audience members were invited to view 20 slides, webcasting knowledge, 44% of the participants did not.and then asked to think back on what specific content Two separate invitations were sent in order tothey remembered from those slides. select participants in the study. The first invitationPerformance was measured through a free-recall test, was sent with the goal to obtain 60 volunteers whowhere information recall was considered the dependent helped to calibrate the PowerPoint content. The linkvariable. In this study, scores were awarded for the recall in the email-based invitation took the volunteeringof accurate facts on the concept of webcasting, which participants to a Web site that included more detailswas the subject matter for all the slides. For instance, about informed consent, and concrete steps onsuch guidelines included: “Focus on only one main idea how to calibrate each of the 40 slides (see Figure 2).about your content, supported by three points,” “It’s not After participants viewed the last slide, a thank-youenough to be useful. You must be useful and interesting message was displayed, which informed them thatand quotable,” or “Don’t wear stripes because they the calibration process was complete and they woulddance around on the screen and are distracting.” receive the results of the research once the entire studyParticipants did not have to recall the exact words, but was finished.they needed to report back the gist of the sentence,demonstrating they understood the essence of thestatement.The methodology for this quantitative, experimentalresearch was divided into three phases:Calibrate the content to be included in the PowerPointdecks to meet criteria for validity and reliability(Calibration phase); Determine a benchmark of anaverage number of slides that are typically rememberedfrom a PowerPoint presentation with neutral information,and whether there is a pattern in which specific slidesare recalled or whether audiences remember slides atrandom (Benchmark phase); and manipulate the designof the benchmarked PowerPoint decks to determinewhether specific slides can be remembered and [FIGURE 2]whether there will be a general improvement in content Once the Calibration phase was complete, anothermemorability (Formal Experiment phase). email-based invitation was sent to the rest of the ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 06
    • database (approximately 12,000 people) in order to ask for volunteers for the other two phases in the study: theBenchmark phase and the four Formal Experiments.Volunteers were taken to a Web site that included additional details about the study, in addition to informed consentmaterial that clarified the terms of the engagement. Viewers were invited to read the available information and informedconsent, and click a Next button, which then randomly assigned them to one of the 26 conditions in the study.The 20 pieces of content from all PowerPoint decks in the study are included in Table 1. The content is importantto consider because the tests and analyses conducted depend on the nature of this content. [ TA B L E 1] SLIDE CONTENT INCLUDED (this stayed the same in all the decks, except in some decks, the sequence of the slide was shuffled) 1 Focus only on one main idea about your content, supported by three points. 2 If someone asks you a question, 30 seconds is a good length of time for an answer. 30 seconds is longer than you think. 3 You have 0% control over the questions you’re asked in the chat box, but you have 100% control over the answers you give. Prepare. 4 It’s not enough to be useful. You must be useful and interesting and quotable. 5 Pop culture references make for good quotes and sound bites. 6 Don’t wear stripes because they dance around on the screen and are distracting. If you wear anything distracting in a webcast, people will remember that and nothing you say. 7 Don’t wear white. It glows and it becomes the most noticeable thing on the video screen. 8 Pastel shirts work well on video.  9 Don’t wear black; it is too harsh and can suck up all the light. 10 Don’t wear bright reds. They “bleed” on camera and are distracting. 11 Video will suck the natural energy out of your voice. If you don’t boost your energy level, like you are telling a story in a noisy restaurant, you will sound flat and monotonous on the video camera. 12 If you want to know how engaging you look on camera, videotape yourself giving the presentation, then watch the recording with the volume off. 13 Don’t sit behind a desk during a webcast that captures your entire body. Sit in an open chair, or present while standing. 14 Drink plenty of water before the webcast, or you will lick your lips. 15 Keep your hair out of your eyes and combed neatly. Otherwise, people will focus on nothing but your hair and will miss your message. 16 Don’t look at the camera unless there is no one around to speak to. It is easier talking to a human being than it is talking to a piece of metal. 17 Don’t lean back in your chair; you’ll look short and fat. 18 Lean forward 15° into the camera; you’ll look taller, leaner, and more confident. 19 Keep your hands out in front of you and ready to gesture. If you move your hands, you will seem more confident and more interesting to watch. 20 Smile all the time, especially when someone else is talking. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 07
    • Sample of a slide from the deck that participants viewed online.A Web site was programmed to host all 26 PowerPoint to complete a free-recall test. Each response wasfiles that were part of the experiments, the free- associated with a correct/incorrect label by two coders.recall test interface, and test results. The site was These coders assigned 1 point for a correct responseprogrammed such that participants could access and and 0 points for an incorrect response, and mappedview a PowerPoint file only once. each 1 or 0 with a specific slide number. The inter-coder reliability was calculated using the kappa coefficient.Upon completion of each experiment (Benchmark and For this study, the average agreement between the twofour Formal Experiments), participants were asked coders was .87, considered a good agreement. [ THE RESULTS [1 Participants remembered an average of 4 slides from a 20-slide, standalone, text-only PowerPoint presentation. 4 Applying the isolation effect every nth slide (3rd, 4th, or 5th) did not impact the overall recall of an entire deck.2 There was a statistically significant difference between the recall of content in text-only slides versus slides that contained text and neutral 5 However, when a change was made every 5th position (i.e., slides 5, 10, 15, and 20), those slides tended to be remembered better than any othervisuals. However, the recall rate did not exceed 4 randomly selected slides from that deck. The reverseslides. was true for slides changed in every 3rd and 4th3 position. Participants tended to remember similar slides, which indicates that their content can be further analyzed to identify commonalities. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 08
    • 4 MAGIC NUMBER FOUR MAGIC NUMBER FOUR MAGIC NUMBER FOUR MAGIC NUMBER FOURIn this study, memory capacity reached four slides there, when the capacity of approximately four itemsfor the six groups (480 people) during the Benchmark had been exceeded.phase; this number did not increase across the other 20groups (1,000 people) during the Formal Experiments. Most studies taken into consideration, including Miller’sRegardless of the distinctiveness effect applied (e.g., famous “7 ± 2,” were focused on short-term memory.changing background color, alternating between slides The present study focused more on the concept ofwith text-only and text and neutral visuals, or replacing long-term memory. Converting short-term memoryneutral visuals with emotional visuals), the number of to long-term memory is called memory consolidationrecalled slides stayed constant. The questions that and is time-dependent. This process can happenarise are: Why four slides? Is four a low number, a high within minutes or hours from learning, and results innumber, or just what is expected? Does the isolation structural and functional changes to neurons. As timeeffect help or hinder recall? And does it make a difference passes, the connections between different neocorticalwhere the four slides are positioned in the series of 20 regions strengthen, allowing for a single memory to beslides? To answer these questions, it is beneficial to accessed independently (which is why the test for thisrevisit several theories of how memory works. study was sent 48 hours after participants viewed the presentation). If long-term memories are not accurate orTo provide a simplified view of memory processes, cannot be retrieved at all, it may indicate that problemsseveral researchers have offered segmentation based happened during encoding or retrieval.on time (short-term, long-term), content (episodic,semantic, procedural), and consciousness (implicit, The proper encoding of memory requires attention,explicit). Regarding short-term storage, no paper on and since attention is limited, only a few stimuli entermemory capacity and short-term memory can escape conscious awareness. Researchers are still debatingwithout quoting Miller’s classic “seven plus or minus two,” whether the filtering of stimuli happens during thewhich has often been used in the fields of psychology sensory input or after the significance of the stimuliand education as pillars for creating guidelines on has been processed. However, there is agreement oninformation processing and communication design. the fact that how people pay attention to informationMiller contended that there is a limit in the number of may determine how much they remember. Theitems that working memory can retain (namely, 7±2). isolation theory selected for this study was intended to potentially prompt people to pay attention to items that were distinct in some way (either by color or structure) and help with the overall encoding of the “list” of slides. The new magic number is 4±1. From this regard, using the isolation effect at encoding was useful because a correlation was found between improved recall and the application of an isolation effect every 5th slide.Other researchers have since questioned the limitationsof memory capacity and suggested that the new magicnumber is 4±1. Others observed that people formclusters of no more than three or four items to recalland items in a list entered a fixed-capacity rehearsalbuffer, and displaced a randomly selected item already ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 09
    • [ images [ Using neutralIn this study, the inclusion of neutral images in text-basedslides helped improve recall. Even though memory did The surprising findings... So far, it has been noted how memory problems can occur at encoding and how the isolation effect cannot go beyond four slides in all conditions, there was help mediate some of these problems (namely forcinga statistically significant difference between the recall attention toward items that are visually distinct inof text-only slides compared to slides containing text some way). Memory problems can also occur duringand neutral visuals. This observation confirms existing retrieval. In the present study, memory was testedresearch findings, according to which the processing of using free recall, 48 hours after participants viewed thea visual stimulus has a positive influence on memory. PowerPoint presentation. This decision was based onOne explanation for picture superiority springs from the consideration that free recall tests typically yieldPavio’s (1991) dual encoding theory, which mentions larger size effects. A free recall test may resemblethat the representations for pictures and words are real-life situations better, because in real life, peoplestored in two separate memory systems, and pictures are not often provided cues or multiple choice tests inare represented by an image code, while words by a order to prove how much they know about webcastingverbal code. Paivio suggested that pictures often show guidelines (the topic of the presentation). In addition, arecall superiority because they are dually encoded (i.e., free recall test provided a very rich dataset, on whichthey evoke both the image and the verbal code). These further qualitative analysis can be conducted.two memory traces increase the probability of retrieving Despite advantages, free recall may be harder onan event. memory compared to cued recall or recognition tasksJust because the addition of neutral images to text- (as evidenced by many participants in the current studybased slides leads to better recall, it does not mean who, before inserting their answers, exclaimed: “What,that all slides in a PowerPoint deck must have images. no multiple choice? No cues?”). Free recall may beAfter all, there are several studies which claim that, more difficult because during free recall, an item is firsteven though lists of images are learned better than lists retrieved from memory by a search process, and thenof words, they are not necessarily retained better over it is tested by the recognition process to determine if ittime, and when free recall is used. Imagery is not always belongs to the to-be-recalled list.guaranteed to facilitate long-term memory. In addition, the organization of materials presented isUsing these memory theories and the findings in this known to facilitate free recall, because free recall involvesstudy, content designers may keep in mind these two a search phase; an organized list is easier to search forconsiderations: than an unorganized list. By contrast, recognition does not include this search phase, and therefore it is notSome slides that used the isolation effect showed better impacted by organization. This observation matchesrecall compared to other slides in the same deck, and the findings of the current study, where the four mostsome of those isolated slides did not include images—all frequently recalled slides could be “organized” aroundthat was needed was that something was changed (or the concept of what to wear and what not to wear during amade distinct) compared to the design of the 4 preceding webcast; these slides grouped around similar conceptsslides (in some cases, this meant the exclusion of the were recalled even though they were not presented inimage if the preceding 4 slides had visuals). the same sequence in all conditions. Overall, the decks in all conditions did not have a specific organization. InText-based slides were remembered, especially when they future similar research, a potential improvement to thecontained “visual words,” or words that painted concrete study design is to provide the topic to be remembered inmental pictures in an audience’s mind (e.g., “don’t wear several obvious sections and observe whether a formalwhite,” “don’t wear black”). These two specifications can be structure impacts recall.critical in the design of on-demand PowerPoint presentations, How can content designers benefit from insightsparticularly because the inclusion of images in all slides may related to potential problems at retrieval? Prior to theimply additional design time and cost. Both can be saved creation of any on-demand presentation, assuming thatknowing that text is a viable design element when used as remembering information is important, content creatorsan isolation technique after more visually intense slides, and can ask the question:when used with words that paint mental pictures. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 10
    • How will viewers “prove” that they remembered thecontent? Will they be provided with cues to which they Free recall is a two-stage process: inneed to react? Or will they have to rely on free recall andact on the information without any cues? If the latter, order for a concept to be recalled, itsound organization of the materials may be critical. must be both successfully retrievedThis is not a trivial remark because, as more presentationsare distributed for on-demand retrieval, many do not and recognized.follow a specific organization. Figure 3 shows thetypical flow of a corporate presentation. There is an For recognition (versus free recall), contextual cuesagenda slide that appears only once (which is typical are critical (e.g., context information originally storedfor business presentations—the agenda is shown in the with the content). In fact, one of the challenges forbeginning of the presentation and not repeated). It may the isolation effect is that while it may provide distinctbe beneficial for this slide to be repeated after each elements at encoding, there is no context at retrieval,section, so that the organization can be “practiced” and especially when testing is done through free recall. Thispotentially retained better, especially as viewers may not is why the use of corporate or academic templatesbe cued later. Many presentations on Slideshare.net, may be beneficial (despite frequent complaints thatfor instance, contain an array of slides (sometimes even templates lead to boring design): they can provideupward of 80 slides), without a distinctive organization. enough contextual cues and physical similarity soThe reader can perform a quick test by accessing the that the next time viewers experience a PowerPointSlideshare.net site, viewing any of the popular on- presentation, they know to associate it with a specificdemand PowerPoint decks available on any topic, and brand or entity.seeing how many files present an easily identifiable andmanageable organizational structure. The flow of a corporate presentation, which can benefit from repeating the agenda slide for emphasizing organization. [FIGURE 3] ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 11
    • So far, observations have been made on memory primacy and recency effects. They remarked that thecapacity and problems that can occur during encoding first and last items in a list might be recalled betterand retrieval. The use of the isolation effect can help because, when analyzed globally, the beginning andby drawing attention to specific items and the use of ending are more distinct; their sheer positioning attractscontextual cues can improve recall. A frequently asked more attention. Viewers may pay less and less attentionquestion around the concept of memory is: To what to each item as the list progresses, thus creating aextent does the sequence of items in a list influence primacy effect. This gradient model could be appliedlong-term memory? to explain some of the findings in the present research study: people tended to remember slides from the firstSerial Positioning half of the presentation (i.e., 6, 7, 8, and 9), and memory faded toward the end. This held true for the shuffled andThe concepts of primacy and recency effects are non-shuffled decks. The practical guideline derived from these observations is for content creators to considerwell-known constructs in psychology. According to placing the most important parts of a presentation inthese principles, people may remember items from the the first half of an on-demand file.beginning and ending of a list a lot more than items inthe middle of a list (depending on the presence of a So far, it appears that four items is a typical numberdistracter task, the speed of the presentation, and the to be recalled and those four items should be placedlist length). These observations are typically linked to toward the beginning of a list for better recall. Is thereshort-term memory recall tests. When long-term memory anything else that can be done if content designersis concerned, and given a longer list length (conditions want to ensure which specific four slides are recalledthat describe the present study), researchers have (versus fearing that slides are recalled at random)?observed that people make a fixed number of searches Controlling the Magicfor items in the long-term store, and the probability ofretrieving a particular item is lower when there are more Fouritems. This observation matches the findings in thecurrent study, where the first slide in all 26 conditionsdid not receive a high recall rate (in both shuffled and Even though participants in the study remembered onlynon-shuffled decks). four slides out of 20, they seemed to remember similar slides. This is wonderful news for content creators because even though some people may be disappointed More recent studies have with a low recall rate, at least they may be able to control found significant serial which four slides are remembered. From this angle, two questions come to focus: 1) Did distinctiveness help positioning when analyzing the with the recall of specific items? and 2) What were the recall rate of commercials characteristics of the most frequently recalled slides? broadcast during the Super This finding can be matched with observations from two separate memory models: researchers who Bowl. observed that after four items, elements in a list start displacing previous items; and the distinctiveness model, according to which elements that deviate fromThey discovered that commercials presented during a list tend to be recalled better. As previously stated,the first batch of ads were remembered significantly to impact which slides are remembered, a practicalbetter than commercials displayed in the middle or at guideline for content designers is to implement a distinctthe end of the program. Since alcohol and tedium that change every 5th slide. In the current study, the changesmay occur during a football game are likely to interfere consisted of switching background colors from light towith a study, Terry (2005) replicated the research in lab dark, eliminating pictures, or replacing neutral imagesconditions, and asked students to view 15 commercials. with more emotional pictures. Future research mayIn a long-term test, he observed that the primacy effect consider other types of distinct contrast (e.g., switchingheld strong, while the recency effect faded. from serious to humorous, from small to large font orReflecting on serial positioning effects, several pictures, from expected to unexpected concepts, etc.).researchers proposed various explanations for the ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 12
    • Unfortunately, what happens often is that content In the current study, designers present or train on three or four separate in the decks where a objectives, but not a lot of time is spent determining how these objectives tie together. This is becoming change occurred every more dangerous as content designers or academic professionals advertise the availability of knowledge 5th slide, those slides were in small chunks; unfortunately, these small bites are remembered better than any the educational equivalent of unhealthy snacks. They may feel good for the moment but they do not easily randomly selected slides from integrate within a healthy diet. Each time a section in the same decks. a presentation is included, it is beneficial to ask: How does it connect or integrate with everything else?Regarding distinctiveness, one may wonder: Why did it Schemas—cognitive frameworks that help peoplenot make a difference where a change was made every organize and interpret information around them—are3rd or 4th slide? The answer may come from research also known to have an impact on recall. This may bewhich suggests that in order for the brain to perceive a due to the fact that schemas influence the way newdifference, it must first perceive the quality of sameness. information is processed and they guide people’sIn the deck where a change was made every 3rd or expectations as to what should occur.4th slide, that change may have appeared too quickly,and there was not enough time for “sameness” to beperceived. The practical guideline for content designers Slides that are linked together mayis to ensure that at least four slides are similar before be remembered better.something is changed. This may be good news for thosewho sometimes question the use of templates when One of the reasons participants tended to remembercrafting presentations (often associated with tedious similar slides (e.g., slides 6, 7, 8, 9) may be becausedesign). The advantage of templates in presentations these slides contained information that deviated fromis that they prompt the designer to use the same existing schemas around presentation guidelines andelements, which establishes consistency and therefore may have been perceived as novel. Typically, informationsome amount of sameness. Deviating from the template about webcasts may include guidelines related to howevery 5th slide may refresh attention and lead to better to organize a message, how to best use pictures andrecall. fonts, or how to create user interactivity with chatSo far, it has been noted that a slide sequence optimized boxes or polling questions. These four popular slidesfor recall is to include the most important information in contained information that may have been unexpectedthe first half of a deck and to apply a distinctiveness because the guidelines are derived from a differenteffect every 5th slide. There are several other memory field—broadcasting—but are applicable to webcasting:theories tied to the concept of item sequence and don’t wear black, white, red, or stripes.improved recall. Several researchers have suggested The practical guideline for content creators is to includethat memory works on a chaining mechanism, where novel information for better retention (which usuallythe recall of an item depends on its predecessors, comes as a result of a thorough audience analysis toand items that appear later in the chain depend on the find out what they would consider as new). One sideaccurate recall of previous items. These observations note to this observation related to novelty is that in thematch the findings in the current study where a few current study, participants who identified themselvesitems that had tighter links (e.g., what to wear) were as knowledgeable in webcasting remembered less thanremembered better than items that were not strongly those who labeled themselves as novices. Research inconnected. advertising hints at a similar fact: those viewers exposedThis concept is also related to the well-known idea to unfamiliar ads engage in more extensive processingof chunking. Adults may expand an otherwise limited and those exposed to familiar ads are less engagedworking memory capacity by grouping related units. For and involved in more confirmation-based processing.example, people remember the sequence PBSBBCCNN This observation helps to confirm that novelty is criticalbetter after dividing it into three smaller units: the for capturing attention, even when an audience maytelevision acronyms PBS, BBC, and CNN . consider themselves advanced. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 13
    • In addition to chunking, and novelty, another recalled slides. The word “wear” was repeated fourcharacteristic that slides 6, 7, 8, and 9 may have times, such as in what to wear or not to wear (e.g.,shared is that the language used to phrase them was don’t wear stripes, black, or white; and wear pastels).highly visual or could be pictured easily, without much Linking this to the idea of clustering, research suggestsmental effort (e.g., don’t wear white, black, red, or that during recall, words that are repeated along somestripes). This observation is tied to the dual encoding dimension are recalled successively. This repetition cantheory mentioned earlier: concrete labels are easier be semantic (items that often appear together in text),to remember than abstract labels because concrete temporal (items that were clustered together in the list),words can be encoded in two separate ways, one or source (items that were studied using the same task).involving an image and the other involving a verbal Practically speaking, it may be beneficial for contentcode or meaning. This observation matches research designers to use similarity of items that are importantfrom advertising, according to which high-imagery in a presentation to be recalled. Figure 4 shows howwords are remembered a lot better than low-imagery or in a professional presentation, words such as RPM,abstract words. In the current study, the slides that had Revenue, and Revolution are repeated on a few slides,concrete language were recalled with higher frequency making these terms more likely to be recalled later.even in the decks that had no pictures. The practicalguideline for content creators is to use concrete andhighly visual words more often than abstract words that Another characteristicmay be harder to visualize, therefore recall. In fact, theleast remembered slides were the ones that contained of the four popular slides isabstract language (e.g., “It is not enough to be useful. that they contained negative information (e.g., “don’t wearYou must be useful, interesting, and quotable.”)Several researchers contend that negative informationis more memorable in the sense that people tend to stripes, don’t wear white,remember more details. Some studies show that the don’t wear black”).right fusiform gyrus, a region responsible for processingexemplar-specific details, displayed higher activity duringthe successful encoding of negative objects. Activity In summary, in order to influence which four slidesin the right amygdala also correlated with memory for are remembered specifically, content designers mayvisual detail. If recalling details is important to content consider applying an isolation effect every 5th slidedesigners, then expressing content in negative terms to provide enough sameness before distinctiveness ismay be a solution to consider. If remembering the gist detected, clustering important slides together, deviatingof the information is sufficient, then positive content from expected schemas with novel information, usingmay be suitable. concrete and highly visual language, and if details are important, expressing thoughts as negativeRepetition was another trait shared by the four most statements. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 14
    • [FIGURE 4] Example of repetition in an on-demand PowerPoint presentationMemory and Source produce interference. In the current study, when asked what they remembered from the 20-slide presentation,Confusion 80% of participants submitted a combination of correct answers, some correct but incompleteIn the past, psychologists believed that memory for answers, incorrect responses, and comments onspecific information created a separate memory trace, presentation design or the research study. 8% ofwhich faded over time, unless it was given specific participants submitted valid responses, but not fromcues to be accessed later. The newer view, which this study. For example, participants remarked thatthis study is taking into consideration, suggests that they remembered that “reading from a script can leadwhen a person interacts with a presentation or content to monotone, which is boring,” “tell a story,” “don’t readin general, the memory for it interferes with other bullet points from the slide,” “get a good night’s rest,”information in storage, including pertinent information “start on time,” “use polls and interactive exercises tofrom other sources as well as personal experience. keep an audience engaged”… all of which was great information, but not received from this study. Memory represents a Only 9% admitted to truly remembering nothing and dynamic process that is phrased it as such (e.g., “Sorry, I don’t even remember what the presentation was about. Pretty sad…” subject to change. “Truthfully, I’ve been sitting here for a few minutes trying to remember and I can’t seem to remember anyBased on this newer view of how memory works and of the slides. Hmmm, perhaps it’s due to menopause,”on the findings from this research study, an important “Wow, this is really crazy, but I don’t remember oneissue to consider for any content designer is the fact slide from that deck,” “Sorry, I truly don’t rememberthat the amount and type of information that already anything right now,” “I honestly do not rememberexists in someone’s memory on a specific topic can anything.”). The rest of the participants had a lot more ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 15
    • information to report, even though in many cases, it commercial and the entity that created it). However,was not the correct or complete information. the reminder is that repetition must not lead to too much similarity. In fact, the more similar messagesIt is important to note that some participants who are, the more source confusion arises. The pragmaticviewed the on-demand presentation also viewed a few guideline for any content designer is to consider aother presentations from the author, which confirms the message carefully and weigh its similarity against otherinterference theory. As one participant confesses very on-demand presentations of the same topic.well (remembering Tufte, an acclaimed PowerPointguru): “My mind is now conflating what was on the pdf It has been noted so far that memory is not static andfrom the Adobe webinar last week, and what was in can hardly be compared to a videotape from whichthis PowerPoint webcasting test, and what I’ve seen information is retrieved later, as old memory modelson other best practices for PowerPoint, and a dash believed. Taking into consideration that memory isof Tufte! Anything else I put here would be generated dynamic, subject to change, and reconstructive (ratherfrom my various ideas about PowerPoint webcasting, than reproductive), the spreading activation modelnot from memory of the presentation as such.” may be appropriate to consider here because it refers to memory as an evolving process. According to this model, concepts are linked via a network and when Source confusion is a well- one is activated, energy is spread to other related known memory error. concepts. When a viewer observes an on-demand PowerPoint presentation (in this case on the topic of webcasting), concepts related to the content become active, as do concepts related to the design andThe content (in this case the webcasting topic) is presentation of the materials.remembered first, and the source is identified later. Ina classic experiment, subjects “remembered” seeing Even though complex, the process of memory is aBugs Bunny at Disneyland, even though Bugs Bunny highly efficient system. When people view similaris not a Disney character. Duracell has discovered information over time, that information is collapsedthat 40% of consumers who remember the bunny together, forming a schema or a mental model.campaign, believe it is advertising Duracell, notEnergizer. When seeing an ad that is similar to another For example, when people view information relatedfrom a more established company, consumers tend to presentation design guidelines, they may notto remember the message from the more renowned remember all the individual presentations, but they maysource. This may explain why principles included in remember certain principles and categories from thosethe present study were attributed to Tufte, who is an presentations due to continuous activation. Theseauthority in the realm of PowerPoint and presentation schemas may be explicit (e.g., viewers may rememberdesign. Source confusion errors may occur when a specific book in which they read certain presentationthere is a high degree of similarity between messages. design guidelines), or implicit, such as having a positiveSeeing similar messages may activate similar networks affect as a result of viewing a presentation.in memory.The reminder for content designers is that the memory Memory is dynamic, subject tofor a particular presentation is not independent fromother information in memory. This poses the question: change, and reconstructive .Can repetition and distinctiveness improve linkagesso that people remember specific information, andattribute it to the right source? After all, it is unfair for Research suggests that the memory for explicita content designer or faculty member to create sound information and particular details is less stable thancontent if the credit goes to a better-known source. the underlying associations within a schema, which are more implicit. This finding was reflected in the currentSome researchers advocate that repetition may study because many participants mentioned in theirhelp to solidify schematic structure and strengthen responses that they enjoyed viewing the presentationthe link to the information source (in the same way even though they did not remember many details (e.g.,that a consumer remembers both the content of the “I don’t remember any specifics. I only remember that ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 16
    • Viewers will retain a general feeling of whether they enjoyed it or not, which influences how they may view the next encounter with materials from the same source. Designers can strive to create any presentation as a great presentation. If greater effort is placed into creating outstanding presentations, there are more chances of people coming back to a source that creates positive feelings.I thought it has good advice,” “Although I thought it influencing consumers’ recollection of the past is likelywas a very interesting presentation, I am drawing a to be greater than the ability to transform the future.complete blank,” “Wow. Either I need to go visit my Future research in the memorability of presentationdoctor to get diagnosed for early memory loss, or design can seek to understand what happens withyou have made a wonderful point. I am at a complete recall when on-demand presentations are followed uploss. I remember the slides being very plain and the by additional materials, and what follow-up intervalsbackground would change per slide, but the content did are optimal for improved recall.not stay with me as I thought it would originally,” “I haveforgotten pretty much everything! I do know that there In conclusion, memory is dynamic and reconstructivewere good tips in there, but damned if I can remember (rather than reproductive). Content designers canwhat they were or anything about the content or the avoid source confusion by creating messages thatpaired images. I’m sorry! I only remember an overall are not too similar to other messages viewers maysense of ‘that was an interesting presentation.’”). As be processing. Greater effort must be placed intoa practical guideline derived from these observations, creating quality presentations with each delivery effortcontent designers and faculty members may keep in because even though viewers may not remember allmind that while viewers may not remember a lot of details, they will retain a general feeling of whetherdetails from a particular presentation, they will retain a the presentation was pleasant and useful. Follow-upgeneral feeling of whether they enjoyed it or not, which may be as important to memory as the initial encodinginfluences how they may view the next encounter with of information, so consider providing additionalmaterials from the same source. As a result, designers materials on the same concepts after the release ofcan strive to create any presentation as a great the on-demand presentation. It is beyond the scopepresentation, because in a world where everyone can of this study to determine optimal follow-up time, butcreate and deliver a presentation at any given moment, research in advertising can provide a starting point,viewers have lots of choices. If greater effort is placed particularly considering the concepts of how familiarinto creating outstanding presentations, there are or unfamiliar an audience is with the entity that designsmore chances of people coming back to a source that the on-demand presentations. For example, wherecreates positive feelings. brand familiarity is concerned, message effectiveness increases with low levels of repetition and decreases as repetition increases. When viewers access an on-If memory is malleable and demand presentation from an unknown entity, there are ’influenced, this meansviewers past experiences ’ two cognitive processes that may come into play: a) reaction to the unfamiliar source, and b) reaction to thecan be new content. When the content comes from a familiarthat what happens after a source, cognitive processes are involved only for the content. Wear-out tends to occur more frequentlypresentation can influence how when the message comes from an unfamiliar brand.that experience is remembered. Keeping these considerations in mind, it may be useful for a content creator to ensure that the “brand” that issues the presentation is strong and familiar first, andContent designers and faculty members may look at then expend effort on creating memorable slides.on-demand presentation delivery not as a single event,but as a continuum, because materials sent after apresentation is made available may influence the way Memory and Emotionthe experience of the initial event is remembered. Post- One of the distinctiveness effects applied in this studyexperiences can influence memories. This is confirmed was the inclusion of emotional pictures (includedby research in advertising: ads are sometimes noticed on all slides or alternated with neutral images). Themore after a consumer has used a product. In fact, expectation was that emotional images enhance ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 17
    • memory because emotional information benefits from slides, researchers included unrelated, neutral objectsamygdala activation, which promotes consolidation (e.g., mittens, feathers). People showed equal recall forand long-term memory. both neutral and emotional pictures but they struggled to remember which neutral object was related to whichA cautionary remark on emotional stimuli is that due emotional picture or other neutral object. These findingsto the fact that attention and memory are limited, suggest that it is harder to recall associations than it isthe inclusion of emotional elements can attract more to recall independent images. The practical guideline forattention, at the expense of peripheral details. Emotional content designers is to ensure that words and imagescomponents may benefit from a “spotlight” effect or included in an emotionally charged slide are an integralact as an “attention magnet” and consequently lead to part of each other—otherwise, they may compete withprivileged processing, resulting in enhanced memory. each other and memory is either impaired or a chanceThis may account for those situations when people may is missed to improve recall.remember emotional materials in a commercial (e.g.,humorous or romantic scenes), but not the product that But what does being “an integral part” really mean?was advertised. In the present study, a similar situation Research suggests the principles of proximity andwas observed: some people remembered some of the continuation to ensure that words and images are anemotional pictures (e.g., person skiing on sand, woman integral part of each other, and provide unity. Thesedoing a yoga pose to reach a laptop, red lips, or frog concepts are tied to Gestalt, a psychology term, whichasking to be kissed), but they did not remember the signifies “unified whole.” Continuation occurs whencontext behind the picture. This matches findings the eyes are guided to move from one object to thefrom researchers who maintain that when words and next object (elements arranged on a line or curve areemotional images are concerned, if the information perceived to be more related). Proximity occurs whenis part of the visual (such as color or location), those elements that are placed together are perceived asdetails will be better retained in memory. By contrast, being part of the same group. For example, in Figure 5if words are just paired up with images (even though below, which was used in one of the 26 manipulationsthere is some association), memory is either impaired, in the present study, the first design (Example A) showsor does not increase. separation of the text and image while the second (Example B) shows the text being part of the image.Several researchers showed people a set of neutralpictures and another set of emotionally negativepictures (e.g., robbery on a subway). In the corner of the[FIGURE 5] EXAMPLE A EXAMPLE B ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 18
    • Regarding integration, a point needs to be made curve are processed together. In Figure 6, Example Aabout the template system that currently exists in (extracted from one of the PowerPoint files from thethe PowerPoint software. If picture/word integration present study) indicates how the text is separated fromleads to better memory, most available templates are the image because the person is looking away fromfundamentally flawed because they promote picture/ the text and into the computer. In Example B, noticetext separation. This means that greater care must how the picture has been reversed and the viewer isbe taken when being tempted to simply use default likely to look at the image first and then “continue”templates for creating on-demand PowerPoint processing the slide by looking at the text. This type ofpresentations, without consideration for perception continuation adds coherence to the slide and makesand memory theories. it look more integrated. In future research, PowerPoint files created for the scope of observing recall willContinuation also leads to better integration as benefit from applying the principles of proximity andelements perceived to be part of the same line or continuation.[FIGURE 6] EXAMPLE A EXAMPLE B Inserting pictures that face the text will lead to continuation and the processing of the slide as a unified whole.Brief Qualitative Analysis receive a correct score if it provided the correct behavior, regardless of the reasoning. For instance, participantsAll participants in the study (1,480) submitted their who simply reported that they must not wear black,responses to the question “What do you remember white, red, or stripes in a webcast received a correctfrom the 20 slides you viewed?” in a qualitative format, score, even though they did not report on the reasonwhich coders mapped to either correct or incorrect why those colors or patterns were not appropriate.responses. Based on the rich nature of the responses, Even though 29% of the overall sample recalled zeroa brief qualitative analysis was conducted to examine slides, it was interesting to note what “zero” meant. Tothe nature of the entries, beyond the mere correct this extent, all qualitative answers were analyzed andor incorrect assignment. Prior to the coding of the the following eight patterns emerged (more than oneresponses, it was agreed that a response would still category applies per participant): ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 19
    • 1 Participants who truly remembered nothing: 9%. 2 Participants who remembered nothing but still wrote 2–7 lines of comments, in the form of apologies, excuses, or criticism of the study: 20%. 3 Participants who remembered some correct content regardless of how many slides: 54%. 4 Participants who remembered some correct content but reported it incompletely: 53%. 5 Participants who had some correct answers but incorrect reasoning: 5%. 6 Participants who reported correct answers related to what to do in a webcast or in presentation skills in general, but not from this study: 8%. 7 Participants who provided some form of incorrect content: 23%. 8 Participants who commented on the design of the slides (instead of or in addition to recalled content): 21%.Limitations and Future The topic included (webcasting) was declarative in nature. It would be interesting to note results whereResearch the content is procedural, more abstract, related more to statistics and charts, or even a combination of theseThe current study focused on observing the isolation items and switching between types of information. Theeffect in a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation. It started present study involved an intentional learning situationwith a “list” of slides that contained an array of (participants were formally instructed to rememberguidelines on what to do and wear during a webcast. as much as they could from the presentation). In anThe guidelines were not organized according to any incidental learning situation (with no formal instructionsparticular criteria and the presentation was accessed for viewers to remember anything), will recall be highervia standalone means (consequently there was no or less than four slides? Since incidental learning ispresenter to “defend” the content, answer questions, selective by nature, then using the isolation effect mayor ask viewers to participate). Participants were be appropriate to make items stand out when the userinstructed to remember as much as they could from may not have a preference. Will the isolated items havethe presentation, but not take notes. Their long- to be better linked to the learning task in order to beterm memory was tested 48 hours after viewing the remembered more?PowerPoint presentation via a free-recall test wherethe order in which the items were reported was not People tended to make errorsconsidered important. Any change in any of the toward the end of the recallconditions described here could lead to different resultsin future research with a similar topic and scope. process and those errorsFor instance, some immediate questions arise: Will triggered more errors, which led tomemory capacity still cap out at four slides if the recall termination.number of slides increases from 20 to 30, 40, or 50+slides? Will recall differ if the test is administeredimmediately versus after 48 hours? Will varying the size It may also be interesting to study whether a differentand meaningfulness of the isolate impact recall? In the test format impacts recall rate (i.e., instead of choosingpresent study, the isolates selected may have been free recall, would cued recall or recognition make atoo “mild.” Perhaps choosing more dramatic contrast difference?). Would conducting a free recall test incan have a stronger effect (e.g., switching from simple person (rather than online) offer additional insightsslides with just a few lines of text and one small picture into how people transition from one response toto slides that have no text and one large picture; or to another, and when they determine that their answer iseven more emotionally charged pictures). “complete”? How do they react when they realize they make errors? ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 20
    • For example, some researchers showed that people professionals interested in constantly learningtended to make errors toward the end of the recall more about how to create effective presentations.process and those errors triggered more errors, which 1,223 participants (out of 1,540) originated from thisled to recall termination. Given that participants may database. The other 317 participants were recruitedbe in a rush when responding to questions, it may with the help of several companies and individualsbe interesting to study at what point they give up. who asked for permission to forward the link to theThis would be important because recall termination study to their own databases or connections becauseultimately determines how many items are recalled, they became interested and excited about the naturetaking into consideration the contiguity effect, of the research and its pragmatic potential.according to which people associate neighboringitems at encoding and later successfully recall items Overall, these organizations forwarded the link to overstudied in neighboring positions. If the recall of an item 100,000 people, which means the click-through rateis perceived as poor, then proximate list positions may (CTR) to recruit participants from cold lists was 0.003%.also be impacted. This percentage was fairly low, compared to the typical CTR from cold lists, which ranges from 0.05% to 3%.Another source for meaningful future research on the Even though CTR has been declining for years duecombination of the isolation effect and on-demand to the overwhelming amount of available ads, whichpresentations might be the aim to observe whether have created a numbing effect, marketing a messageisolated slides act as organizing tools. Several for a research study should attempt a 3% CTR. Thisresearchers noted that in a free-recall situation, means that improvements can be made should futureparticipants tended to report items in an organized researchers advertise their studies online to cold lists.fashion. This may be due to the fact that the isolated For example, bigger ads for the study, ads placed nearitems serve as anchor points and help to establish order the content for an email blast, or ads placed betweenin the list, particularly since no formal organization of the title of a post and the content of the post, and bluethe information is provided and participants may links for the research, seem to work best in attractinguse the isolates to deliberately attempt to organize viewers. Segmentation of the audience based oninformation. specific demographics can also increase the CTR for any advertised research study.Any future research would have to find volunteers,and a brief note must be made on reaching a high Twitter could be a useful tool in promoting researchpopulation for a research study. 1,540 people had participation. A dominant site for social media, Twitter isto be recruited for this study (60 people during the currently used by corporations, government agencies,Calibration phase, and 1,480 during the Benchmark and celebrities to inform, educate, or advertise. Forand Four Experiment phases). The author had access the current study, Twitter provided an opportunity toto a professional database with approximately 12,000 inform the community about the current study andparticipants, who opted to be part of this database as invite the author’s followers to participate. The degreea result of attending workshops or webinars provided to which people re-tweet a study or react to it canby the author in the past five years. Consequently, this speak to the value of the research and motivate otherswas not a “cold list,” but rather a list with business to participate. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 21
    • [ THE CONCLUSION [The research here shed some light on issues relatedto the isolation effect and creating memorable on-demand presentations. The study findings haveimplications for corporate content creators as well asfor virtual professors. It has been noted repeatedlythat the brain is bound to make mistakes by forgettingor misremembering things. This issue is exacerbatedby content designers’ tendency to place a premiumon distributing information quickly and widely, whichoften breeds superficiality. Society has switched fromintensive to extensive presentations, often valuingquantity over quality, almost implanting forgetfulnessinto people’s souls. Viewers are asked to read, read,read, and designers are wondering why they forget,forget, forget. This mindset can be adjusted.When skillfully used, PowerPoint and the memorytheories presented here can help create on-demandpresentations that provide the structure, simplicity, andvisual sophistication necessary for proper recall. If onecan influence the specifics of what people remember,what will that mean to the future of your business? The Anti-Presentation Company 415-606-5406 info@reximedia.com www.reximedia.com ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 22
    • A big thank you to all our loyal and committed customers, partners, and friends who believed in the potential of this research and in the power of science. ARE YOU MEMORABLE | 23
    • YOU’REINVITEDWhat is your 5th element?Join this 2-hour virtual workshop to learnhow to apply the surprising findings fromour research in your own presentations andmake them more memorable.www.reximedia.com/workshops