Presentation science applied to your slides can make a difference to the outcome of your presentation.

In this brain rule by John Medina, we consider the importance of knowing your audience before you present.

Brain Rule #11: Male and female brains work differently.

One way of applying presentation science is to get the font size right. We know that eyesight can deteriorate with age. There’s a statistic bandied about that your minimum font size needs to be half the average age of your audience. So, a bunch of directors around 50? Go for 25pt.

Font size usually needs to be a minimum of 18pt for presentations – don’t go thinking you can get away with 10pt if you’re presenting to Gen Z because of that ‘half the average age’ rule!

Other factors include the size of the screen, the relative size of the font, how far away the audience is from the screen and the resolution. These factors can vary: so just don’t forget 18pt as a minimum for the text on your slides. (This assumes your canvas is the default PowerPoint size too).

What if your audience is predominantly male or female?

Research shows that men and women handle acute stress differently. Medina’s explanation states:

When researcher Larry Cahill showed them slasher films, men fired up the amygdale in their brain’s right hemisphere, which is responsible for the gist of an event. Their left was comparatively silent. Women lit up their left amygdale, the one responsible for details. Having a team that simultaneously understood the gist and details of a given stressful situation helped us conquer the world.”

When planning your presentation it’s certainly a good idea to cover both the gist and the details. A good method of applying presentation science involves having a flexible structure. Such a structure would start with outlining the gist. Then it would provide detail to prove that gist as the presentation progresses. You might feel like you do this, but the chances are high (from presentations we see) that you dived straight into details. If you can “set the scene” and provide a big picture view at the start – you’ll find you have a more convincing argument for your audience – to both male and female brains!

Applying presentation science for men and women

Applying presentation science: Emotions

Another consideration when applying presentation science is that men and women process certain emotions differently. Emotions are useful. They make the brain pay attention. Medina says “These differences are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture.”

Know that: people don’t pay attention to boring things. They do pay attention to emotional things however – so engaging your audience emotionally with your slides is one of the most important things you can do.

How can you engage?

  • Use visuals – they are quickly understood and far more memorable.
  • Use contrast – something that looks different is immediately noticeable and draws attention.
  • Show early on that your presentation is relevant to your audience.
  • Describe benefits and challenges that relate to your audience.

Finally, an extra point about colour perception:

Men are more prone to colour blindness, than women. The fact that it exists means that using red and green for comparison isn’t always a good plan. (Another tip is to label the chart itself rather than using a separated legend). Regardless of colour perception, the distance the eyes have to travel between chart and legend can be tiring and make your chart harder or slower to be understood. This is “spatial contiguity theory” and is another tip for the benefits of presentation science on your slides!