The end of TED talks? Good speaker. Bad speaker. You learn the same from each.

tedtalksby jurvetson

Here’s How to Fool People Into Thinking They Know More Than They Do
[Via Kevin Drum – Mother Jones]

Which do you learn more from? A presenter with good speaking skills and professional visual aids, or someone reading badly from prepared notes? Oddly enough, a team of psychologists actually decided to test this. Their test subjects, as usual, were university students:

Afterwards the students answered questions about how much they felt they had learned. As expected, students who had watched the lecturer with better presentation skills expected to remember more of the material, believed that they understood the material better, and rated their interest and motivation more highly than the students who watched the dud instructor.

The twist came when the students took a test that investigated their memory and understanding of the Calico cats concept. The students who watched the skillful (or “fluent”) lecturer barely outperformed the students who watched the “disfluent speaker.” But they did much poorer than they expected to do, whereas the other group did about as well as they expected.


So, the kids learn the same when tested, no matter how great  or bad the presenter was. The only difference was that the ones who saw the great presenter “thought” they knew it better.

A good presentation can affect us emotionally and cloud our perception but not really communicate knowledge better.

We will just have to see if this data hods up. Maybe it just means that the testing method cannot really separate out the intellectual differences. Maybe after 6 months there could be a difference?

Or maybe the only real need for a great speaker is to convince us of something not just inform us. Theory would suggest this is correct,