“Agenda” slides don’t work: There is an effective and elegant alternative.

This is an example of a slide that violates many norms of effective communication.

It constantly amazes me that many presenters do not know, or choose not to use, one of the best psychological techniques available to elegantly convince their audience of the value of what they are proposing. Instead, many presenters use a common & far-less effective technique that is the anthesis of effective communication techniques: The written “Agenda Slide” in a Powerpoint presentation.

This overlooked, or underused, technique is known by many names, however, the most common one is that of “The Yes Set”

Definition of “The Yes Set”:
A “yes set” is what is known in psychology, NLP, psychotherapy & Ericksonian hypnosis as an “agreement frame”. It has proven effective in many contexts: business, family, etc.  It’s main use is to lead the other person, or people, towards agreeing with you on something big or important by getting their agreement on small, reasonable statements or questions first. The basic principle is really simple: the possibility of someone agreeing with your suggestions will rise significantly if they have immediately previously agreed with you on multiple, less important points.

Children are experts at using this technique: “Dad, do you love me?”, “Do you love me a lot?” “Do you really love me a lot?”, “Do you really, really love me a lot?” “Do you want me to be the happiest boy in the world? Will you buy me that mountain bike that costs $600?  No? Grandpa, do you love me?

Since this technique is also used by “caring professionals” such as clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners. It SHOULD also be used by negotiators, mediators, sales staff or anyone who needs conscious AND subconscious agreement from their interlocutors.

Problems with an Agenda slide.
– An agenda or outline is usually part of a written document,  such as a book,; a scientific study, etc., which is controlled by the reader. A Presentation is an oral communication which is controlled by the presenter. The two communicative activities are DIFFERENT and must be recognized, and treated, as such. The presenter has two options: read the text aloud whic converts the presentation into a “master Class” reading lesson and insults the audience by indicating that they do not know how to read or the presenter can remain silent and let them read the text for themselves which means that he is redundant. If you take the last option, cancel the presentation and send everyone the “presentation” in PDF and save time and money for everyone!

People have to read, and understand, the whole transparency BEFORE they listen to the speaker. Some people are speed-readers. Others are slow readers. If the slide is in their own language they generally read faster and if it is a foreign language they tend to read more slowly.

– If you start the presentation with a reading lesson, you are setting up expectations regarding the rest of the presentation: the rest will be in the same style which might demotivate or alienate the audience.

– By providing a written guide to the presentation you are providing the audience with ways to be in possible disagreement, either mentally or verbally, with the proposed structure.

UPDATE: January, 2018.

Also, scientific studies indicate that when people are required to read and listen to the same text at the same time, it creates a processing problem for Wernicke’s Area because W.A. processes both written and spoken language. If both channels are used at the same time, it creates a bottleneck. If only one channel, such as reading, is used, it is easily processed and facilitates higher level cognition. Also, if only hearing is to be used, it focusses on the input from that channel. However, when both channels are used simultaneously, Wernicke’s area focuses more on reading than listening – especially if the information is the same. If the written text is slightly different and shown before the spoken input, both channels will be processed and better comprehension should occur.
Obviously, show an agena slide and then reading it word-for-word means that the aaudience will be focussed on the text and NOT on your particular verbal and non-verbal communication.

(Sources: Johnson, Williams, Pipe, Puppe & Heiserman (2001); Tanner (2007); Mason & Just (2007); Wise, et al (2007))

You are NOT creating a “Yes Set” which means that the audience are not being slowly & elegantly led to a psychological predisposition to say “yes” to you and your proposal(s).

– No “yes set” means the speaker is not gaining a psychological advantage by reaching the subconscious mind of the audience by setting up the “agreement frame” for the desired objective of the presentation.

– The presenter wastes valuable time preparing, and using, a slide which does not help achieve his communicative objectives.

– Many presenters waste time referring back to the slide during the course of the presentation which interrupts the flow of presentation and could prove annoying for the audience. This is the equivalent of reading a chaper of a book and then referring back to the index to see what the next chapter is! How unproductive & silly!

– The “Agenda” slide basically treats the audience like idiots: indirectly indicating that they are so slow that they can’t remember a structure presented to them a few minutes earlier.

As one can see from the points raised above, the Agenda slide is not an effective communicative technique. Even if it has been used for years in many organizations, that does not automatically make right or “best practice”. Knowledge, techniques & communication styles have changed and advanced  from the last century and the style of presentation should reflect these changes. This is what is known as innovation! 

Our recommendation; Use a verbal preface given with only the title slide of the presentation being shown.

Purpose of a verbal preface:
1) It allows the audience to “tune in” to your speaking style. Everyone speaks differently so we all need time to subconsciously adapt to the speaking style of each presenter.

2) It establishes important facts going from non-problematic areas to more problematic.

3) it provides “Neutral” information about the presenter and the structure of the presentation.

4) Provides the conditions necessary for an elegant “Yes Set”.

5) The preface should take no more than 2 minutes to cover these areas. .

Every verbal preface should contain the following elements IN THE SAME ORDER, if you wish to create a “yes set”. Starting with “yesable” elements which the audience can easily accept subconsciously leading to more problematic areas: Phones off; questions at the end, etc.
We Repeat; IN THE SAME ORDER otherwise you will NOT create a “yes set” and are wasting your time!

1. Welcoming Courtesies:
-Thank the audience for coming.

2. Self-identification:
– Name & background (if necessary).
– Why YOU are the person making the presentation.

3. The intention:
– What you are going to do / show / demostrate.
– The benefits for the audience.

4. The “Route Map”:
How long you are going to talk.
The points / areas you are going to cover.

5. The “Rules of the Road”.
Mobile phones off (Not vibrate because they still disturb the presenter & the audience).
Questions at the end and the reasons “WHY?”.
Support Documents (at the end =copy of the Slides + datos).

6. Start your presentation.

Whether or not you reach your communicative objectives depends on YOU. You can not blame the audience if they do not make the decision that you want – it is almost always the fault of the transmitter, not the receptor.

You need to decide whether you are going to use techniques based on up-to-date knowledge for the 21st century or keep using the old, much less effective habits from the last century (literally!)

(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, October, 2012

Other elements to consider that are covered in other BLOG posts:
How to kill a presentation stone dead in three easy steps.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-3w
Making presentations sitting down = Less influence & more problems.
Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2guX2-x
Oh no! Not ANOTHER boring company presentation!
shortlink: http://wp.me/p2guX2-4q
“An Elephant in the Room” # 2: The Hidden Dangers of Interrupting during Presentations.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-2d
“An elephant in the Room” # 3 : Avoiding Unacceptable Behaviour in Presentations.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-2w


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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