Minimize The Extraneous Load of Your Presentations

It is safe to assume that all presenters aspire to educate their audience members. Even in sales pitches that aim to convert audience members into customers, the presenter must effectively communicate educational insights about the proposed purchase before persuading people to pull out their wallets.  The same is true for motivational presentations; before audience members will embrace a new lifestyle or philosophy, they must first be convinced that the presented perspective is valid.

So here’s the thing: If you want your audience to learn anything from your presentation, you need to understand and utilize Cognitive Load Theory.

Many studies and papers have been published on the topic of Cognitive Load Theory, however the best summary of this complex topic is provided by Ton de Jong in the article, Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: some food for thought:

Basically, cognitive load theory asserts that learning is hampered when working memory capacity is exceeded in a learning task. Cognitive load theory distinguishes three different types of contributions to total cognitive load. Intrinsic cognitive load relates to inherent characteristics of the content to be learned, extraneous cognitive load is the load that is caused by the instructional material used to present the content, and finally, germane cognitive load refers to the load imposed by learning processes.

Since the intrinsic load is predetermined by the material that needs to be presented, presenters should focus on lightening the extraneous load. With a minimal extraneous load, audience members are likely to have leftover brainpower for the germane load, the load required to process the input from the intrinsic and extraneous loads.

Deliver a presentation that is rich in meaning and sophisticated in style, but simple to comprehend. Minimize the extraneous load of your presentations with these 4 tips.

1. Establish trust.

To reduce the amount of working memory required for the comprehension of your presentation, organize your presentation content in a logical flow. Early in your presentation, give your audience a preview of the organizational structure of your material. When audience members understand how information is going to be shared, they are less likely to use their limited brainpower to wonder about concepts that you will eventually explain for them. Your audience can sit back and relax, trusting that you have done the hard work of preparing answers to any of their potential questions or concerns.

2. Utilize Progressive Disclosure.

Present information only as it is needed. The best practice is to present only one idea per slide. However, if multiple components of a single idea, or multiple ideas must be presented on a single slide, design your presentation so that the information is revealed in stages. Completely explain each stage before revealing the next element on the slide, or moving onto subsequent slides. By utilizing progressive disclosure, you are managing the flow of information for your audience. If you present too much information at one time, many members of your audience will take on the responsibility of assimilating the various parts into a cohesive whole, instead of waiting for you to walk them through each step in a guided tour. By guiding your audience members through your content, you are minimizing the effort required to understand your material.

cognitive load theory for presentations

3. Dumb it down.

Use language that is easy to understand. While some members of your audience might have an advanced vocabulary, don’t flaunt your own language skills just to keep up with the Joneses. Only use technical terms and industry jargon when absolutely necessary. If you lean on your vocabulary to establish credibility, don’t stress; your brilliance will be evident when you simplify complex ideas by using everyday language for your explanation. Your audience will be impressed by your mastery of a complicated topic.

4. Use images. 

When possible, avoid using text on your slides. Instead, opt for visual representations as well as verbal explanations of your ideas. It is a common misconception that including text on a slide with visuals simplifies the comprehension of the visual.  However, since the text and images must both be processed, including both elements will require more working memory than visuals alone. Since visuals, accompanied by a verbal explanation, are the most effective method for communication, choose your visuals wisely. If you select visuals that don’t directly support your message, your audience members will exert unnecessary mental energy trying to connect the visuals to your concept.

For additional information, watch the video below, Multimedia Learning.

Conclusion: If a presentation is worth writing, designing, and sharing, you can safely assume that the topic is not simplistic. However, as the presenter, it is your responsibility to simplify the material so your audience can effectively process and integrate your message. To deliver a presentation that others can understand, reduce the extraneous load of your presentation by using visuals instead of text, opting for simple language, utilizing progressive disclosure, and guiding the audience through thoughtfully organized content.

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