Slides that Don’t Make Sense

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 6 comments

slides-that-dont-make-senseMost presentations disengage the audience. Bullet points give away too much; the audience feel no need to stay engaged to find out what ‘happens next’. Visual cognitive dissonance is a technique m62 use to make the audience want to know what happens next. Dissonance is a mental state of conflict or incompleteness; visual cognitive dissonance presents something visually that doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance. The audience look again – they want to work out what they are being shown. Surrealist art, jigsaw puzzles, or m62 slides.

Visual Cognitive Dissonance is a technique m62 use to counter the effect of Death By PowerPoint.

When presented with visual information, the audience block out the presenter while they assimilate the information. There are four possible outcomes from this process:

  1. I don’t understand this
  2. I understand this and I strongly agree
  3. I understand this and I strongly disagree
  4. Yes. So what?

The first 3 outcomes are useful to the presenter and the last is a predictor of boredom. Finding content that polarises audience opinion (options 2 and 3) is difficult and dangerous. Which leaves us with the first one, “I don’t understand this”.

At m62 we have designed over 6500 presentations and in excess of 225,000 PowerPoint slides and the one thing they have in common is that they do not make complete sense until the presenter either builds or explains them. This is Visual Cognitive Dissonance in practice.

Visual Cognitive Dissonance is a way of arousing the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brain, it compels the audience to engage with the presenter, which lets face it is a good start for a presentation.

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6 Comments to Slides that Don’t Make Sense

  1. #1


    2:52 pm, April 12th, 2010

    i m fully impressed by this…

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    12:11 pm, April 13th, 2010

    Thank you for the kind words, Raj. If you are interested in gaining a further understanding of presentations, check out more of the articles in our presentation theory section.

  3. #3


    11:31 am, August 11th, 2010

    Will definitely try Visual Cognitive Dissonance! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. #4

    Jessica Pyne

    2:05 pm, August 11th, 2010

    You’re welcome, Angelyn – we’re glad you’ll be putting our information to good use! Hope it goes well, and please keep spreading the word that PowerPoint doesn’t have to be boring!

  5. #5


    12:12 am, March 29th, 2011

    I love the idea of Visual Cognitive Dissonance in a presentation, but I can guarantee my president will not like the idea. Can you point me toward some examples that may help convince him?

  6. #6

    Joby Blume

    8:52 pm, March 30th, 2011

    There are lots of examples in our PowerPoint Clinic. Or approach it from the other direction and demonstrate that bullet points don’t work – the alternatives might seem a bit weird, but not finding an alternative is guaranteed to fail.

    Good luck!