Another intense workshop with Alpha School scientists who strive to turn their research into viable businesses. I help them how to hone their message and pitch. One girl starts her Big Idea with a picture of Bill Clinton announcing completion of a draft of the human genome. She says: On June 26th Bill Clinton announced that we’ve managed to unlock the secrets of the human genome. It was beginning of the new era that allowed us to continue with numerous research. The ones that save lives, too. I’m one of the scientists who stem from that line of research and… She obviously continued with her pitch. It was quite a good one. A bit too academic, but that’s usual when you extract someone from a purely academic environment and tell him to pitch like a pro and talk business in 3 minute pitch.
When she finished I did not gave feedback immediately. I asked others to share their impressions first. The first thing they said came as a shock for her. It did not however stroke me as a surprise. They’ve all agreed that the only strong association they had when they scanned the picture on the screen was: Monica Lewinsky. And sex scandal. The girl crafted the Big Idea around a profound event she chose to illustrate with a decent picture and all the audience thought was cigar, an intern and that president. Why did that happen? Because we our brains are wired.
And because we have a Jennifer Aniston neurone. How come? Well, let me tell you a story of one research where lead scientist Quian Quiroga conducted a study involving eight patients suffering from epilepsy, all of whom had been temporarily implanted with devices to monitor brain-cell activity as part of their treatment. Quian Quiroga and colleagues took advantage of this opportunity to monitor the firing behaviour of their neurons. Using a laptop, they presented the subjects with a series of one-second snapshots of celebrities, animals, objects and landmark buildings. Each person was shown a total of almost 2,000 pictures; in each sitting they saw about 90 pictures showing roughly a dozen distinct items.
One thing was really striking. The photographs and the neuronal response revealed just how selective cells within the medial temporal lobe – located deep inside the brain- can be. For example, a neuron of one patient responded almost solely to different pictures of Bill Clinton. Various pictures of Jennifer Aniston elicited a response in a single neuron inside the medial temporal lobe of another patient. Interestingly, images of her with her former husband Brad Pitt did not sway this cell, the authors of the paper report. Poor Brad. Poor we!
Why this matters? When you are crafting your pitch deck, using visuals you should always strive to predict the possible associations people may have. You never know what neurone might light up when you show them something. Information stored in our brain may have a different meaning than the very same information stored in someone else’s brain. The experiment really happened. The neutron in question responded to seven photographs of actress Jennifer Aniston and basically ignored the 80 other images of everything. Including famous and non famous people. We are all wired. And so our brains are. So maybe next time you made an informative decision to use a visual, double check the associations and the emotional charge the visual might have.