Your goal as a speaker is to make your presentation smell like brownies. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. In our last two blogs, we’ve discussed a neuroscientist’s perspective on what makes a presentation RAD. Check out parts 1 and 2 now if you missed them.

RAD is a concept that comes from neuroscientist, author, and educator Judy Willis. She says that in order to make a lesson or presentation memorable, we have to understand three neuroscientific concepts: the reticular activating system, the amygdala, and dopamine. The reticular activating system is a brain filter which is tuned in to things that are novel. The amygdala plays an important role in our bodies’ stress responses. So as presenters, we need to know how both novelty and anxiety influence whether our message gets across to our audience. In our last part of this series, we’ll look at the third part of this equation. The “D” of Willis’ RAD concept talks about dopamine.

What is Dopamine?

Psychology Today says that dopamine is known as “the feel-good neurotransmitter.” This important brain chemical essentially stamps pleasurable or rewarding experiences in our brains so that we remember the feeling or reward we got from them. Because of this, it’s heavily tied to our memories.

Think, for example, about the smell of brownies. Why do you love it so much? Neuroscientists say it’s because that smell sets off a memory for you that is linked to a pleasurable experience. Your brain knows that when that smell occurs, you are usually soon after rewarded with the taste of a delicious brownie.

Now imagine a board room rather than brownies. If that board room has been filled with lively and engaging meetings and discussions which produced great company morale and growth, your levels of dopamine were higher in that space. Therefore, whenever you enter that space, your brain says, “hey—the times I’ve spent in here have been rewarding!” So you have positive and pleasurable associations with that space. In other words, those meetings were RAD.

Dopamine’s Link to Motivation and Reward

That brings us to one of the most important functions of dopamine which is its ability to motivate us toward an action based on the possibility of reward. Researchers Arif Hamid and Joshua Berke found that they are inherently linked. Their research shows that “dopamine levels continuously signal how good or valuable the current situation is regarding obtaining a reward.” In other words, as we engage in any kind of experience, we take clues from our dopamine levels about how likely this is to result in some type of reward. That could be the reward of increasing knowledge, experiencing a pleasurable sensation, or raising our self-esteem. It’s really anything we view as positive or worthwhile. In turn, we assign value to that experience based on the reward we think we’ll earn. This attention to dopamine levels is one-third of Willis’ formula for making a presentation RAD.

What Does This Mean for Presenters?

Here’s why this matters for presenters. Audience members come into each presentation wondering, what will my reward be for listening? What will I get out of this? As a presenter, you have to identify what things might be valuable for the audience and reward them accordingly. Will your presentation give them a new perspective, insider information, or greater control over their work environment? Then say so. In the beginning of your presentation, tell the audience what they stand to gain by listening. When you do this, neuroscientific research basically guarantees that you will increase their motivation to listen. That’s because you are tapping into the elements that makes an experience RAD.

And since dopamine levels are constantly communicating to us, it won’t just affect the motivation the audience has at the beginning of your presentation. Those increased levels will help elevate their attention levels throughout. We pay attention when a reward is on the line.

So make your presentations smell like brownies. Give your audience a whiff of what’s to come if they’ll just jump in and pay attention. In doing so, you are using neuroscience to make your presentations RAD.

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