Almost every sales presentation today happens in a virtual environment. Sellers have also adopted their own ideas of what they believe works best to engage their prospects and customers during those meetings.
There are plenty of ideas and so-called best practices about what might work. But how do you know if those techniques are actually effective at persuading people to buy?
My research team and I run neuroscience research studies to measure people’s implicit reactions to sales and marketing presentations in real time. Using technology such as electroencephalogram caps, heart rate monitors and eye trackers, we analyze variables such as attention, memory, fatigue, motivation to act, valence (how much the brain enjoys an experience), and arousal (how alert and awake the brain is during that experience).
Based on our findings, here are some neuroscience-based guidelines for making remote sales presentations more persuasive and memorable:
Worry About Working Memory Span – Not Attention Span
The idea that people have short attention spans is a myth. People will pay extended attention to things they find rewarding – just ask anyone who’s binge-watched a show. The problem when trying to engage your audience members is not attention, but working memory. In other words, that’s the capacity to hold information in their minds until they complete a cognitive task.
Working memory is essential to thinking, understanding, solving problems, planning and making decisions. Almost everything you ask buyers to do during sales presentations requires working memory. Working memory also impacts how much buyers can hold in their minds at any given time.
Say you’re delivering a sales pitch via Zoom that lasts five, 10 or 20 minutes. By the end of the presentation, people will remember very little, because working memory supports long-term memory and has capacity limitations. Typically, customers will retain the new information you share for about 30 seconds, keeping three to four chunks in mind. After that, new items start replacing existing ones.
To tackle this capacity limitation, repeat your main message often throughout a presentation. Repetition is key; it enables someone’s brain to carry essential information throughout a longer presentation. In one study we conducted, virtual audience members remembered the important points of a five-minute presentation only when the message was repeated six times. For a 20-minute pitch, the message had to be repeated 12 times.
While giving a virtual sales pitch, repeat important points at least once per minute to keep them “alive” in your audience’s working memory. Doing so will increase the chances of long-term memory, which can impact decision-making.
Increase the Level of Alertness
Our research shows that when we use a lot of movement, the business brain can stay attentive and alert throughout a presentation. Buyers’ brains respond well when you keep a brisk pace during delivery and pair the information with a lot of motion on the screen (animation and annotation on slides, videos, and your own movements on camera).
For example, in our most recent neuroscience study on virtual versus in-person, hybrid and phone sales pitches, some slides had more than 30 animations, and slides changed every 30 seconds. That level of motion sustained attention and helped working memory and long-term memory in all four modalities. In another study where the amount of visual movement on the screen increased by four times, participants’ brains were more alert and attentive (and ironically, less fatigued).
To put this research into practice, look at the amount of movement you’re embedding in your remote presentations. Do you have slides where nothing changes for minutes at a time? If so, add animation or annotation. If not, keep the brain alert with words that create visual variety and motion in people’s minds.
For example, take the famous Kafka sentence: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” He uses words that can be seen and sensed. Although business presentations don’t typically include this kind of literary language, they do include ideas that are intended to provoke, inspire, and appeal to the senses.
You don’t need to give up abstract concepts entirely – they can keep the brain alert, too. The brain needs abstract and generic concepts to draw conclusions and detect essential ideas, which can be applied to other situations. But too many abstracts and generics presented slowly lead to boredom and fatigue. The more visual and varied the language, the easier it is to keep the brain alert.
Use the Right Kind of Images to Impact Attention and Recall
Many remote presentations include visual elements, usually on slides. Sometimes, the slides are converted into static content such as e-books. In a study using an e-book created by a B2B company, we analyzed the brain’s reaction to cliché images compared to less predictable and functional images (i.e., images with instructional, and not decorative purposes). Participants’ brains didn’t learn from cliché images. Functional and less predictable images attracted interest and led to more focus on the actual text.
Of course, that doesn’t mean predictable images should be removed from B2B sales content. In our studies, viewers tolerated about 10%-20% of a presentation or video that had cliché imagery before it affected attention and memory. So include a mix of predictable and less predictable images that teach your audience something important and support the accompanying text.
In the absence of such images, emphasize the most important text for your audience to process. Text, after all, is also a graphical element. Make text memorable even in the absence of a visual by using words that help the brain build a mental image, and make it easy to process by using color, size, and proximity to create a clear hierarchy of information.
Overall, consider this: Your prospects and customers will attend many virtual presentations, but only a few have the potential to leave a mark. Next time you have a remote sales presentation, look to these neuroscience tips to impact your customers’ attention, memory, and decision-making.
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