Over the past few years, webinars have grown to become an integral part of the marketing and communications plans of many organisations.
One in three of us now attend more than 10 virtual events a month, according to the 2020 Redback Report — and attendance looks set to increase further in the coming year.
When we recently asked virtual event attendees about their experiences for this study, many talked about the challenges of absorbing and remembering the wealth of information that is shared in webinars and other digital events.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at how you can use the science behind the brain to create a memorable webinar and ensure your attendees not only recall the valuable information you’re imparting, but get maximum value from the time they invest in your event.
1. The (neuro)science of building a better slide deck
The first thing you should do before you prepare your slide deck is put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ensure your presentation is relevant to what’s important to each key cohort.
While the essence of the message you’re trying to communicate might be the same for every audience, not everyone will approach it from the same place. While, on one level, we all share many of the same aspirations and dreams as individuals and groups, there are still differences that are specific to our own situations.
Reference an experience or a specific challenge that relates to each group, or is most appropriate and interesting to the majority of listeners. Think about the language, tone and terminology you’re using.
Maintain and direct the attention of your audience to important points in your slides by making key elements larger and more pronounced.
It’s also a good idea to combine words and images whenever you need to make an important point. Research has shown that because we process words and pictures in different parts of the brain, if you include both images and text, people are twice as likely to remember your message. Video can also increase retention by stimulating additional areas of the brain,
It’s harder for our brains to remember larger, more complex chunks of information, so if you’re building up to something more detailed, break it down and build the final picture step by step by adding content to a slide one part at a time.
2. Tell a story but stay on point
There’s only so much information our brains can take in over a limited period of time, so don’t go overboard when it comes to the amount of information you’re sharing.
Keep it to the bare minimum. Read and re-read, and as you do, cut out everything that’s irrelevant, superfluous or just filling space.
The less time you spend on information that you don’t need, the more time you’ll have to amplify the key points of your message, which is important because the brain needs meaningful repetition to lay down long-term memory.
Our attention spans are impacted by our level of emotional connection with a particular activity, so creating a storyline or narrative that highlights why your message is important can make it more memorable.
Not only that, but when we’re absorbed in a strong narrative, the brain releases oxytocin – a chemical that generates feelings of well-being, empathy, trust and social bonding. So when the brain receives information as part of a narrative, it remembers it better than a list of facts.
Breaking up the rhythm and keeping the audience active throughout a webinar also aids retention by stimulating different parts of the brain. Build in plenty of breaks which include getting your audience to do something active like answering a live poll, or holding a light-hearted Q&A or quiz.
3. Power up your smile
Research has found that when you’re smiling, the whole world really does smile with you.
Smiling releases chemicals including dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which have often been described as the brain’s own party drugs.
Smiling not only makes you feel happy and, as a result, more relaxed and confident, it also makes people you’re presenting to feel more comfortable as well. Smiling activates the part of your brain that processes sensory rewards, so when you smile at someone, they feel rewarded.
We all also like to be acknowledged, and spoken to, not at. Make eye contact with the camera and create a conversation with your audience as if you’re in a one-on-one discussion. It can help to include a personal story or anecdote relevant to your key message to make a connection.
It’s estimated that 30%-50% of the surface of the brain, also known as the cortex, is devoted to processing visual information, compared to around 8% for touch and 3% for hearing – so it pays to make your production a feast for the eyes.
That doesn’t only mean including plenty of images in your slide deck to highlight important points. It means steering your audience’s focus toward what you really want by using visual aids such as graphs, charts and short videos to complement the main points of your presentation. The visuals should allow the audience to see what you’re discussing in your presentation in an easily identifiable way, as opposed to a list of dot points that just repeat what you’re saying.
4. Reward your audience
When it comes to online training and education webinars, the neuroscience of gamification can tell us a lot about the way people learn.
We’ve already talked about the benefits of a strong narrative, which is a key advantage that gamification can provide. But there’s also other lessons we can learn from game play.
For instance, there’s a reason why many games have reward cabinets where players can view their medals or other riches. That’s because remembering our past successes releases serotonin, a hormone that governs our overall mood. When it’s up we’re generally on a natural high, so to speak, but when it’s down we can feel grim.
Rewards also create positive associations with learning because when we’re rewarded for a particular action our body releases the feel-good hormone dopamine. When learners associate the experience with positive emotions, it prompts them to try to repeat it by seeking out more learning.
Playing games also releases endorphins which are a natural painkiller, can lower stress and anxiety, and create a sense of euphoria – which is a great mindset to have your audience in.
Gamification can also help when it comes to information overload, also known as cognitive overload. As we’ve mentioned, the brain can only handle a finite amount of information.
Gamification can help avoid cognitive overload by presenting activities in a more challenge-based format, which helps to reduce pieces of information to smaller bites that are easier to remember.
So whether it’s telling a personal story, introducing a quiz or a competition, illustrating and reinforcing your key points with images, or just keeping a smile on your dial, make sure you keep in mind (pardon the pun) how some simple neuroscience techniques can help make your next digital event a memorable one.