Say “Goodbye” to Bullet points. Say “Hello” to Transmediation (and Effective & Memorable Communication).

text and sleeping students

The objective of any communication is normally to ensure that the message sent from the sender is the same message that is received by the receptor. However, frequently it appears that this does not happen: people are often “too busy” (or untrained) to prepare appropriately to ensure that effective communication occurs.

To obtain maximum benefit from this article, I strongly recommend that you read the following posts first:

(1).2000-2012 International Presentation Skills Survey Results. Link
Our updated research (from 2012 to 2017) indicates that the points evaluated in the original survey are still areas that cause audience members to disconnect from the communication: Presentation, training session, lecture, etc.

(2) The Psychology and Use of Bullet Points in Presentations. Link

Both the previous posts and this one will be of use not only to Presenters, but also trainers, teachers, professors or anyone else involved with formal or informal communication to groups.

Since it appears that some people have not heard that Bullet Points are not effective ways of conveying your message in oral communication activities such as presenting, meetings, training, etc., I hope that this article and the ones indicated above help to clarrify matters.

Please note: If you prefer to stick to the “old” tried-and-true (!!!) methods, go ahead.          If you really want to save time, energy and cost, simply write what you want to say in your bullet points on slides, as if  it is a text document and save it as a PDF. Then send it to the audience via email. Voila! The reader can read it whenever, wherever and as many times as they like without being bothered by someone talking while they are reading. It saves everyone’s time and avoids the inconvenience of having to attend a meeting that is not terribly productive.

Some key points to remember about the use of bullet points:

1. Working memory.
Recent research into the role of working memory indicates that Miller’s postulation of 7+/-2 chunks of information has been reevaluated. The accepted optimal quantity of information that can be held in working memory is now placed at 3-4 chunks as has been demonstrated by Cowan and Shu & Carlson as well as other researchers – If these chunks are covering completely different and related information. It appears that the brain can process up to 14 visual elements at one time.

The implications for bullet points / paragraphs / slides full of text are obvious: Too much information will not be processed properly which wastes everyone’s time..

2. The role of Wernicke’s Area.
Both reading and hearing are processed by Wernicke’s area. When Wernicke’s area is processing ONLY written text it normally results in higher-level thinking. When ONLY processing hearing, once again, higher level thinking occurs. However, when both occur simultaneously, preference is normally given to reading. The hearing input does NOT get processed: So why do people continue to read their slides when it is a waste of everyone’s time and energy?

A simple test: Put up a slide full of bullet points and start reading it and watch what your audience do: Until the person has personally read the whole text, they WILL NOT listen to the speaker.

Research conducted by Dr. Bruce Hilliard from Murdoch University, Perth, W.A., Australia – a leading expert in psychophysics, neurobiology and neuropsychology indicates that If you are using bullet points, it is useful to shade the text on the screen once it has been read so that it remains on the screen and shows the logical structured being followed but does not distract attention from the following element(s).

What is Transmediation?
Transmediation is the process of changing information from one communication channel to another. In this case, it is from written text to visual. This is a useful technique to enhance study skills for students of any age!

Why bother to use Transmediation?
– The information is more easily processed mentally.
– It enables the presenter to ensure the messages reach the cognitive brain.
– Visual material is more memorable.
– Colour is much more effective than B&W.
– Transmediation can make the format used more salient.

Special tips:
– No dark coloured backgrounds to distract from the content. Always ensure excellent contrast between background and foreground text.
– No strange and redundant features on each slide. (Avoid PowerPoint’s Templates!)
– Keep every slide simple, clean, balanced and uncluttered as recommended by specialists in Gestalt psychology.

The rest of this article will show some practical applications of Transmediation:

Slide #1
This is an example of a typical “open-show” bullet point slide. All the information is revealed at the beginning and the audience are overwhelmed with information.

overloaded Spider Text

As soon as a slide like this appears, the audience stops listening to the speaker and read the whole slide before they pay attention to the speaker again. If you want to give them a reading lesson – fine. If not, shut up and let them read the slide and then show them the next slide and let them read that one…. ad infinitum!

Slide #2
Shows the possible influence of the Primacy / Recency effect on audience memory and retention. It also shows that the writer’s intention is not necessarily the same as that received / perceived by the reader / audience. It is vital to remember that “Last in, first out!” commonly occurs. A practical task: Now..,Write down 3 to 5 things that are important for you in a life-partner.

The normal response is to write down the most important thing first (A.K.A. “Top-of-Mind”) followed by slightly less important items. The more you write, the less important they are. Now, apply this idea to the bullet points that you write on the slides!

clean Spider Text

Slide #3 shows the transmediation version.

Spider image
– The graphic would be animated from the center out and in a clockwise direction.
– Every element (circles, lines, fill, etc.) can be edited to make specific elements more salient.
– There is very little text.
– No element has more importance than another.
– Provide a break from written text.
– Much more memorable.
– The presenter can spend as much or as little time on each element as required.

Slide #4

One simple way to use bullet points – if you have no option but to use them – is to place a reduced “bare-bones” version of the text on the slide. Each element should be animated to appear when YOU want it to appear. Show the first element on the slide and give the audience a second or two to read it and then give them the full version thereby permitting Wernicke’s area to process the two inputs correctly. Continue in the same way with the rest of the material.
Please note that the first elements on this slide have had the text faded to reduce audience distraction.

Slide #5
This one illustrated the typical type of slide used to outline “historical” information that is, once again, overloaded and has all the problems associated with heavy textual content.


Slide #6

This slide uses a variation of the “Gutenenberg” structure of visual perception that starts with the Primary Optical Area in the top left hand corner and then progresses horizontally to the top right hand corner, then diagonally down to the bottom left hand corner and finally horizontally across to the bottom right hand corner (the Terminal Optical Area)
Each element should be animated and appears when the presenter requires it.
Notice the use of black and white images and the final element being is colour. Also take note of the size of each box used: the last one being bigger than the previous ones. This is so that the audience subconsciously focus on the coloured element which is the most important!

Slide 7: Here is an example of the use in a  pharmaceutical context:

Timeline Clinical trials

Slide #8
This slide shows one of the traditional methods of presenting the relationship between three elements with a unifying nexus. However if can be more clearly and memorably be presented in a different way.

Healthy heart text

Slide #8

Pyramid image

NOTE: The empty pyramid form should appear in the center of  the slide. By showing the empty form first, you are priming the audience to receive your message. Once again the animation would be from the center and go up and then clockwise.

As can be seen from the TRANSMEDIATION examples, it is vital to focus on the use of visual material in your presentations and traing courses. NLP studies indicate that around 78% of the population have a preference for visual images and this can be seen from the use of visual material on the internet. In addition, visual images can start a bottom-up mental process in the brain which attracts & then focusses the attention and can initiate recall of previous memories which prepares the brain for the use of cognitive top-down processing. Only 12% of the population have a preference for auditory information based on text and data – however this data can usually be shown visually and then supported after the presentation with PDFs containing the detailed data. Around 10% of the population might be defined as Kinaesthetics where emotion, touch, taste and smell are their prefered ways of processing information.

All the material used in the slides shown above is based on the application of Cognitive Load Theory and Cognitive Complexity Theory which facilitate both top-down and bottom-op mental processing.

I hope that this brief article has given you reasons to reevaluate the methods that you are currently using in your presentations or training courses and to reconsider what can be done to improve the comprehension and retention of your message(s) in the minds of your audience.

All productive feedback would be appreciated and if you require more information please feel free to contact me.

(C) Ian S. Brownlee, Madrid, 28011, Spain. All rights reserved.

Sources consulted in this article:

● Suzanne B. Shu & Kurt A. Carlson, The rule of three: How the third event signals the emergence of a streak, (2007).                                                                                                             ● Suzanne B. Shu & Kurt A. Carlson, When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings.(2013)                                                              ● Moreno, R., and Mayer, R. E. (2002). Verbal redundancy in multimedia learning: When reading helps listening. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(1), 156163.
● Mackiewicz, J. (2008). Comparing Powerpoint experts’ and university students’ opinions about Powerpoint presentations. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 38(2), 149-165.
● Berk, R. A. (2012). Top 10 evidence-based, best practices for PowerPoint in the Classroom. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 5(3), 17.
● Kombartzky, U., Ploetzner, R., Schlag, S., and Metz, B. (2010). Developing and evaluating a strategy for learning from animations. Learning and Instruction, 20(5), 424-433.
● Walsh, M., Asha, J., and Sprainger, N. (2007). Reading digital texts. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 30(1), 40.
● Ploetzner, R., and Lowe, R. (2012). A systematic characterisation of expository animations. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 781-794.
● Ploetzner, R., Lowe, R., and Schlag, S. (2013). A systematic characterization of cognitive techniques for learning from textual and pictorial representations. Journal of Education and Learning, 2(2), 78-95.
● Catrambone, R., and Seay, A. F. (2002). Using animation to help students learn computer algorithms. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 44(3), 495-511.
● Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 124(3), 372-422.
● Olusola O. Adesope, John C. Nesbit : Animated and static concept maps enhance learning from spoken narration, Department of Educational Leadership & Counseling Psychology, College of Education, Washington State University, 356 Cleveland Hall, Pullman, WA 99164-2114, USA & Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
● Florax, M., and Ploetzner, R. (2010). What contributes to the split-attention effect? The role of text segmentation, picture labelling, and spatial proximity. Learning and Instruction, 20(3), 216-224.
● Boucheix, J.-M., Lowe, R. K., Putri, D. K., and Groff, J. (2013). Cueing animations: Dynamic signaling aids information extraction and comprehension. Learning and Instruction, 25, 71-84.
● Boucheix, J.-M., and Schneider, E. (2009). Static and animated presentations in learning dynamic mechanical systems. Learning and Instruction, 19(2), 112127.
● Allison E. Carey, Transmediation and the Transparent Eye-ball: Approaching Literature through Different Ways of Knowing., Language Arts Journal of Michigan, Issue 1, Literacy, Literature, and the Arts, October 2012
● Marjorie Siegel, More than Words: The Generative Power of Transmediation for Learning, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 20, No. 4, Cultural Psychology and Semiotics. (Autumn, 1995), pp. 455-475.



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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