Please don’t do this

Please don’t do this in presentations. It forces the audience to read the text and this will be done in preference to listening. The data is not retained. The highlighting forces the audience to read that section before getting context of the rest of the data. None of that will be retained. The attention of the audience will be lost. Large blocks of text are counterproductive, despite being ubiquitous in presentations.

Sadly, online presentations magnify the problems of supportive media in presentations. The use of large blocks of text is psychologically and educationally invalid. It forces the audience to read and this cognitive load prevents effective listening. This introduces confusion and distraction, ultimately leading to audience members closing down one conflicting input. Due to image primacy, the preferred input is text and the speaker becomes redundant even although the spoken message continues.

In the majority of online presentations, the supportive media assumes dominance on the screen due to size. Text focusses attention and the audience will read, even text that is not pertinent to the issue being discussed. A simple test is to blank the screen and notice attention return to the speaker. When the “speaker” themself is relegated to a tiny icon (as above) it is very challenging for the audience to focus on the speaker and further distraction occurs.

The effect of highlighting text is to draw immediate attention. Thus, when such a slide is displayed, the primary focus of the audience will be on this highlighted text, in this case, likely to be “13 (1.6%) survived to hospital discharge”. This fact alone requires context, influences interpretation of the basic data, and whilst the remaining text may provide this, it will take at least three minutes to do so. Even as a reader, you have read the other line. During all this time the speaker will have continued talking and all this information will be in conflict with itself. One cannot read, process and listen at the same time.

The requirement to list the complexities of data in presentations is often minimal and yet commonplace. The purpose of this reference was (presumably) to suggest the value of POCUS during resuscitation. This might easily be made; “The REASON study of intra-resuscitation POCUS showed had value in this situation.” This key fact is not actually highlighted, this point is confused by what I personally found to be a very poorly written abstract. My confusion relates to the phraseology “no cardiac activity on ultrasound was associated with non-survival, but 0.6% survived to discharge.” And now you are checking the slide and we have all lost track of the speaker’s message and purpose. It should be understood that without specific direction the audience will “sense make” of a presented image and, as has happened here the audience’s attention is lost.

The final point is that little data is actually retained. You have seen the image, it has been discussed across two paragraphs but without checking back can you actually remember what percentage of patients survived to discharge? Worse, given that was not even the primary outcome of the paper, one must question the value in highlighting it as of primary importance. The facts that are key to understanding and the presenter needs or wants the audience to focus on, must be immediately clear and available for retention. If they are not, the individual audience members will decide for themselves, as in my confusion regarding non-survivors surviving with no heart beat. How one might display this key information is challenging but an example might be as below.

please don't do this

It must be emphasised that I do not know the context within which this slide was displayed. It was shared on twitter to make a point regarding the technique. An in-depth discussion of that topic may be found here. Opinion will vary on all of this, but if one cannot appreciate purpose without context, a slide has little value and will be distracting. If there are multiple facts in a slide all are valid. And if there is confusion as to which is key, they are all important. Please don’t do this in presentations.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.