Commentary

Harvard Professors Say Medium Affects Message, Influences Decisions

Interactive advertising based on real data that personalizes the message can typically keep the interest of consumers longer because they become part of the experience. Same goes for the way CMOs deliver ideas to their company's board of director or C-suite executives.

A study conducted by Harvard University Department of Psychology that analyzes three presentation styles—PowerPoint, interactive Prezi tools, and oral presentations—to analyze the influence of formats suggests CMOs need to begin thinking as much about the medium they use as they do their audience. 

Participants presented live to an audience over Skype. The audience judged the efficacy of each presentation. In the second phase, recorded versions of these presentations were presented to a larger online audience, allowing them to measure the impact of presentation format on decision-making and learning.

Across both experiments, participants ranked PowerPoint presentations comparable to oral presentations, but evaluated Prezi presentations more favorably.

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The results suggest that participants who viewed different types of presentations came to different conclusions about the business scenario, but no evidence that they remembered or comprehended the scenario differently. One conclusion:the observed effects of presentation format are not merely the result of novelty, bias, experimenter-, or software-specific characteristics, but instead reveal a communication preference for using the panning-and-zooming animations.

Other conclusions: Interactivity breeds interest, prompts behavioral changes, and leads the viewer to make decisions. The medium determines success. The study suggests zooming user interfaces, ones in which people can interact with the content, creates interest, but researchers at Harvard University Department of Psychology caution that the presentation medium is but one of many factors that determine success. 

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