sales presentations and Cognitive Load Theory

Sales presentations and cognitive load theory
Professor John Sweller demonstrated with his Cognitive Load Theory in the 1980s that our brains have two hemispheres, right and left.  The right side is emotional, reacting to emotions, mood, art, beauty, music and such. The left side functions rationally, is interested in facts and analysis, strong in math and data processing.


Cognitive load theory highlights the need to take into account how the brain works: Even though everyone has one side that is stronger, the brain needs both hemispheres to function… but not simultaneously, or you’ll get overload and switching off. Either your customer reads… … or  listens! But the brain cannot do both.


Sales presentations and multi-tasking
This theory disproves a popular belief… … the belief that human beings can multitask, like Windows! This is completely untrue. This is the first thing that pilots learn: human beings cannot multitask. Windows can, human beings cannot. Our brains work sequentially. Pilots learn a series of successive tasks in a specific order, both to make sure they do not waste time performing them, and to make sure they don’t forget anything. This is because they cannot pay attention to several tasks at once.


We are biologically incapable of processing several data flows simultaneously.


As a consequence, when you talk to your customer, don’t show him the corresponding slide containing the written text, because either he won’t listen, or he won’t read.  On top of this, we don’t read, talk or listen at the same speed:

  • When you talk, you talk at about 100 words per minute.
  • If you show text in a slide show, the customer will read it 3 to 4 times faster: this is why he will either read or listen, but not both.

Sales presentations and multi-taskingThe idea is therefore to address the right and left hemispheres separately, with two different tools designed for two separate goals.

  • You need a slideshow for the SHOW,
  • And a written proposal to give the customer to read. Facts, information, data: it is all available in the written proposal, which can be sent to the customer in an email, a PDF attachment, or a hard copy via snail mail. Data and “the facts“ have never been so easily available.


It is vital not to confuse the two: the sales meeting should be a show, and the show won’t work without you…

We must not only differentiate between the written proposal and the sales presentation, the written proposal must not be used to illustrate the sales presentation. You can do a sales presentation without using a PowerPoint presentation or an overhead projector, but you cannot do a sales presentation using a proposal that is meant to be read.

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