What makes a presentation, lecture, or meeting memorable? Or a better question might be, what makes a presentation RAD? I was in high school in the 90’s when this term was popular. But don’t worry, I’m not taking you back to that wonderful decade.

No, I’m talking about neuroscience. At Ethos3, we are fascinated by brain research. We believe that when we can understand the way our brains process information, we can understand how to be better designers, speakers, and humans.

So today we are beginning a 3-part series that explores an exciting concept from an expert with a unique perspective. Judy Willis is a neuroscientist, but she’s also an educator. And she says that in order to make a lesson or presentation memorable, we have to understand the concept of RAD. Let’s dig in.

What is a RAD presentation?

Willis says that “the acronym RAD can remind educators of three important neuroscience concepts to consider when preparing lessons.” Here are the brain sensitive concepts we need to keep in mind in order to create a RAD presentation:

  • Novelty promotes information transmission through the Reticular activating system.
  • Stress-free classrooms propel data through the Amygdala’s affective filter.
  • Pleasurable associations linked with learning are more likely to release more Dopamine.”

Reticular Activating System

We are constantly taking in sensory information—sights, sounds, smells—the amount of input we are constantly exposed to is amazing. And it could quickly become overwhelming if not for the help of the reticular activating system. This brain function works like a sensory filter or guard, allowing some things to pass through and become memory, while quickly dismissing or forgetting other input. As Willis notes in her book Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from Neuroscience and the Classroom, Revised and Expanded Edition, “only a tiny fraction—about 1 percent—of all that information passes up through the attention filter.” So in order to have a presentation that resonates with your audience, it has to be new, challenging, or different from the majority of the sensory input they’ve encountered before.

The Red Wagon

In the same text, Willis recounts her memory of one of her Harvard professors who propelled himself into the room on a red wagon using an activated fire extinguisher. This was his novel way of introducing them to Newton’s third law of motion which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Quite different and novel from a standard spoken lecture with the aid of a PowerPoint, right? If only all of us would use this professor’s example as inspiration to help our messages make it through the filter of the reticular activating systems of our audience members.

Make it Novel

But maybe you aren’t a speaker, maybe you are designing or marketing or creating or administrating. Willis’ RAD theory can help you, too. Any time we are trying to communicate a message to someone, we need to find ways to make that information novel. Perhaps we play with different colors. Or we could use creative and novel wording. Another strategy might be to employ the use of an image that is different than something we’ve seen before. Or we can make creative connections, associating two things that haven’t been used in tandem prior. Our goal is just to get past that filter. That’s first step toward making our message memorable. It’s the first step toward becoming RAD.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of our post when we’ll cover how the amygdala puts up a barrier to learning when we are stressed (like totally not RAD).

Want to learn more of what we’ve uncovered in our quest to dig into presentation research and theory? Check out our full line of resources now.


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