In our last blog, we talked about the trend of overcommunication. We tend to get bombarded with lots of information these days. That means presenters have to work harder to make their information stand out. When you present, you want to make an impact, right? But how exactly do you do that? Try novelty.

Let’s look at some of the traditional ideas about how novel information impacts us and then check out some of the modern research proving those ideas. Then we’ll brainstorm a few ways to use novelty in our presentations.

Why Novelty?

As early as 80 BC, we understood that things which are different or rare impact our memories differently from things which are more commonplace. Here’s a passage from Rhetorica ad Herenium discussing this:

“When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember a long time.”

While this particular observation was written over 2,000 years ago, it still holds true today. That ancient text goes on to talk about the concept of loci, creating novel images in our minds to help us remember things. It saw a resurgence with the BBC series Sherlock. And The New York Times created a puzzle to show how novelty works to impact memory. Try it now.

What Science Says

These days, scientific research is proving what we knew to be true thousands of years ago. Studies have proven that our brains are hardwired to respond to novelty. Brain imaging has shown what the Rhetorica ad Herenium could only assume: that our brain activity increases when we encounter something new.

A study by Judith Schomaker and Martin Meeter proved that novelty enhances our visual perception. We actually see and perceive things better if they are novel because our early sensory processing system is enhanced. In a related study, Schomaker and Meeter found that novelty enables us to focus better, giving us a kind of hyper-aware concentration. Not only that, but they found that novelty can extend both our motivation and memory. I don’t know a single presenter who wouldn’t want to boost their impact time in this way.

How Do We Use It?

  • Language: Try wording something in a different or unusual way. These types of “odd” phrases stick with the audience.
  • Visuals: Make your images unique. Farfetched doesn’t have to mean unprofessional, though. Look for creative ways to communicate your ideas. Replace mundane visuals with novel ones. Even a unique font can make an impact.
  • Delivery: Research shows that humans can detect the slightest change in sound. Think about how you can pick up a loop or pause in white noise no matter how small that sound change is. Use your voice or your body language in novel ways (increased volume, a defined or pronounced movement, or even silence) to get the attention of your audience and to make an impact.
  • Content: Use content that falls a little outside of the audience’s expectations of what is normal. You could tell a vulnerable story or point to a humorous exception of the topic you are talking about.


Let’s end by going to back to where we started, the Rhetorica ad Herenium. In it, the anonymous author says this, “ordinary things easily slip from the memory while the striking and novel stay longer in mind. A sunrise, the sun’s course, a sunset, are marvelous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom.”

It can be tempting to talk about sunrises in our presentations. They are beautiful, after all. But they aren’t novel. And chances are, they won’t leave much of an impact. When developing your next presentation, think solar eclipse, not sunrise.

Want more ideas about how to make your presentation stand out? We’re ready to help.



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