Presentations and the myth of multi-tasking


One of the great myths of modern life is that people – particularly women – can do more than one thing at a time: cook while watching TV; study while listening to music; drive while talking on the ‘phone; text while watching a presentation…


In fact, according to psychologist  Susan M Weinschenk in her very useful book 100 things every presenter needs to know about people, multitasking is a misnomer: what we actually do is switch tasks, often so rapidly that we don’t realise we are doing it.


There is one possible exception to the ‘no-such-thing-as-multitasking’ rule, according to Susan: ‘If you are doing a physical task that you have done very, very often and are very good at, then you can do that task while you are doing a mental task. So if you are an adult and you have learned to walk, then you can walk and talk at the same time.’


But even walking and talking doesn’t always work very well. People talking on the ‘phone while walking are often oblivious to what is around them – including oncoming traffic! And if you receive some very bad or good or startling news while walking you are likely to stop walking in order to pay attention.


How is this relevant to presentations? Well it explains why it is such a very bad idea to display text-heavy slides and then talk your way through them.


Your audience can either read or listen. They can’t do both at once. And if they try you will be out of sync with them because reading is faster than talking and they will have reached bullet point 9 while you are still explaining bullet point 4!


The end result will be confusion and frustration as you fail to communicate the core message(s)  contained in the slide.


Death by PowerPoint has many faces – and this is one of them. Instead, go for simple slides with little or no text and strong visual impact that allow your audience to concentrate on what you are saying. You can provide as much back-up information as you like at the end of the session.