Feed audiences the info-bites they crave

I learned a new word this week: infovore. It slipped into my mind courtesy of a man we often like to quote in this blog, Dr Nick Morgan. Nick is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches, and his own blog – Public Words – is a regular fixture on my reading list.

An infovore is someone who loves collecting and puzzling over snippets of information. It turns out there are a lot of infovores in the world – and that’s good news for anyone in the public speaking business.

It’s good news not just because there are people who want the information we might share in speeches and presentations. That’s always handy, but it’s not what’s really neat about infovores.

What’s really interesting is the way the brain responds to these snippets of information. The word ‘infovore’ was coined by two neuroscientists, Irving Biederman and Edward Vessel. Recent research shows that the brain rewards information bites in the same ways as it rewards food and money.  We hunger for all three, says Nick Morgan. “When we get food, or money, or information, a study shows, we get a dopamine hit in two places, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, aka some of the ‘pleasure centers’ of the brain.”

So the message for speakers and presenters is simple: make sure you are encouraging those dopamine hits in the brain’s happy place.

Nick Morgan offers three ways we should try to do that:

1 – Create curiosity

“Like Dan Brown, we need to get good at building suspense by teasing what’s going to come next and creating interest within the talk itself.” Promote a headline about something you will talk about later, or alert the audience that – no matter how interesting the information you’ve just given them – there’s something even better to come. Be strategic. You don’t want to annoy your audience with too many teases.

2 – Keep the information bite-sized

“The urge to tell an audience everything you know is difficult to resist, especially because one of the first things most speakers do when they learn that they have an upcoming speech is to research like crazy in order to learn everything possible – so that they know more than the audience will,” says Nick Morgan.  “They overdo the data dump and tell the audience way more than it wants to know.  Keep your information drip to the audience simple, fun, and easy to manage.” 

3 – Mix up the kinds of information you offer 

Nick Morgan writes: “I had a math teacher in college who was absolutely brilliant at providing his oft-baffled students with fascinating little bits of biographical information about the mathematicians we studied, in order to spice up the meal with a bit of variety in lieu of yet another formula.” As we tell people in our Podium Coaching workshops, pace the delivery of heavy-duty information. Give the audience a break every so often with a story or anecdote relevant to the information being share. 

We already know that chemicals in the brain respond well to stories. That’s what makes story such a great tool for making information stick in the memory. Now, with this new research into infovores, we are even better positioned to create speeches and presentations that stick in the mind.