Give it space

We’ve talked about that primal beast that lurks within us before in the ramblings of Stun Science, but it's something that comes up again and again as we continue to explore what makes presentations, pitches and performance so great. After all, we share almost 60% of our DNA with chickens... and bananas.

The more we look at what makes a great presentation or a compelling story the more we see it is the basic “lizard brain” that gives us those gut feelings. Those instincts tell us the recent cinematic career of Steve Martin is unfunny or we will not like fermented corn. They're there for a reason. They protect our body from anything dangerous or harmful.

Even the simple act of thinking about things uses energy. The more we have to think about, the more energy our brains need. That’s why when someone uses lots of big words or a slide on the screen looks too cluttered, we get bored. Boredom is our body's way of protecting us from things that need too much energy for no benefit.

So, the less energy we require the brain to use to understand our message, the more it will like us – and our message.

That’s where white space comes in. We think of white space as the stuff around a picture, between lines on a page – the empty bits. The temptation is to think empty is boring. But sometimes it's just what the brain wants. Fewer things on a page means we don’t have to think so much and those things are easier to see and understand.  

Space and room to think is luxurious. Our brains love it as a contrast to all the stimuli that bombards us. That’s why luxury brands like Apple or Chanel are so minimalist. A single Apple logo on a white screen screams luxury and quality.

But the theory of white space doesn’t just apply to design. It can apply to the way you talk or present. Fewer words is good. Plain English is good. As much as you think leveraging synergies between cross-functional teams in an agile environment sounds cool, it requires too much brain energy. Just say “we’ll try talking to each other.”


Spreading out data and providing white space with context is another way to help keep the brain engaged. Don’t just throw up a series of complex graphs. Instead, give a key fact with a real story to illustrate it. More numbers don’t mean better. The brain can’t process them all and won’t process them all.

Stillness can be effective too. A good pause, standing still, leaving the audience to look at one image – all super-effective.

Need more convincing? Think about the beep test. It’s one of those great jock rites of passage where athletes must run a fixed distance over increasingly shorter intervals. Some of us can finish two intervals before wishing we were dead; some can do 20. But what you are doing is overloading your lungs and muscles with more and more stimuli. Eventually people end up falling to their knees, sobbing and hurling a little.  

That’s what “Death by PowerPoint” is to the brain. Increasing amounts of stimulation with little break or context. A yawn is just the brain dry-retching.

What does this all mean?

Give the brain space. Give it less to look at, less words to process and more stories to give things context. There's a scientific phenomenon know as the Von Restorff Effect that talks about something which stands out is something that gets remembered. But we all understand that without some old dead guy putting his name to it, right? 

So, if you want to get your point across – don’t bombard us with diagrams, bullet points, jargon or flashy transitions. Choose the best points, present them simply with style and get the greatest reward the brain can give you – it remembers what you were trying to say.


For more of this and other cool stuff, order your free copy of the Book of Stun today.