The Three Ways the Brain Creates Meaning

I recently viewed an interesting TED presentation by Tom Wujec titled “The Three Ways the Brain Creates Meaning.”  Wujec has this to say:

We make meaning by seeing, by an act of visual interrogation. The lessons for us are three-fold. First, use images to clarify what we’re trying to communicate. Secondly make those images interactive so that we engage much more fully. And the third is to augment memory by creating a visual persistence. 

What does this mean for us in a presentation context?  In the Extreme Presentation method we design presentations using five essential elements: Logic, Rhetoric, Graphics, Metrics and Politics.  We then apply these five elements to one of two presentation idioms, Conference Room style or Ballroom Style.

I believe we can apply Wujec’s findings to the graphics element when working with the “Conference Room Style” idiom:

1.    Use images to clarify what we’re trying to communicate.

We can do this by designing each page so that the page layout itself reinforces the main message of the page. Sample layouts that achieve this can be found here.

2.    Make those images interactive so that we engage much more fully.

This is achieved by having all the information on one page and contained in or around an appropriate layout (see point 1) including charts. Most importantly this page is handed out, not projected. By doing this we can get the audience to absorb and adopt what we are presenting to them by allowing interactive discussion, which then gives them the opportunity to engage with our material and reflect on it.  Here’s an example.

3.    Augment memory by creating a visual persistence.

If you look at a well-lit scene and then close your eyes, you will notice that the image can still be sensed for some time after your eyes close.  This is visual persistence.  Under the Extreme Presentation Method we can determine whether the presentation will create visual persistence by applying the squint test.

6a00d8341bfd2e53ef0133f441f56b970b-800wiAnother way of applying these lessons is to think of a traditional painting, one that tells a story, such as “Shearing the Rams,” by Australian painter Tom Roberts, 1888.

Here Roberts depicts six men hunched over in a staggered pattern extending towards the back of a narrow sided room which belongs to a large shearing shed. By creating such a line, Roberts brings the viewer’s focus on the men’s positions, leaving the sheep secondary. Furthermore, he orientates the painting so that the viewer is directly in line with the shearers, practically hiding the sheep from view. But of even greater significance is the presence and position of the foreman to the right of the shearers. The foreman represents the shearing industry, which at the time imposed brutal and oppressive working conditions upon the shearers.

Hence in Roberts painting he uses images to clarify what he is trying to communicate – the struggle of the shearer not only with the rams but also against oppressive working conditions. He makes those images interactive so that we engage more fully through the different characters, their ages, their ranks and the painting’s location. And finally he creates a visual persistence through his artistry.

So the cognitive science research  as described by Wujec seems to confirm what our great classical artists have always known. That is, we need to use images to clarify our message, enable audience interaction and create a visual persistence.  This in turn further reinforces our confidence that the Extreme Presentation method provides the means by which this can be achieved in our business presentations.

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