Making Things Tangible

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One way to make things more memorable for your audience is to involve some of their other senses, in addition to the senses of hearing and seeing. For example, have you considered making things more tangible?

An obvious way to do this would be to bring props to pass around. Do you have a product that you could hand to your audience? Or something else that's related to your topic?

Passing around props really only works for small audiences, though. But sometimes you can make things more "tangible" without people actually touching it. A good example of this is the famous TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, where she brings a real human brain with her on stage. You can see it in the video embedded below, starting at the 2:20 mark. Watch - and especially listen to - the audience reactions. Even though they don't get to touch the brain, they sure won't forget this experience.

I was reminded of this TED talk when I was preparing a short presentation recently that focussed on the brain and what it does during a presentation. Instead of bringing a real brain with me I decided to put up a CT scan of my own brain. This of course has nowhere near same the effect, but many people have seen such CT scans before, maybe even of their own brain. So while it isn't exactly tangible, it's something that people are familiar with.

Sometimes, you can also make things tangible indirectly. In that same presentation about the brain, I was also talking about the visual cortex, a region of the brain that's responsible for processing visual information. It is located at the back of the brain. So to make this more tangible for my audience, I asked them to put their hand on the back of their head (a gesture I shamelessly stole from Dr. Medina's book Brain Rules, actually). You can't touch your brain, but the audience will now know (and remember!) that they have such a thing as a visual cortex and where it's located, just with that simple gesture.


In helping your audience remember, try to involve some of their other senses. The sense of touch is an obvious (and practical) candidate. Make use of it if you can - maybe even indirectly. Just don't fall into the trap of doing things for the effect only; there should always be a clear and obvious relation to the topic of your presentation.

If you'd like me to talk or write about this topic, you can hire me to do so.
Please email me for details.
Creative Commons Licence "Making Things Tangible" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.