How to incorporate emotional design into medical education

Are my slides complete with all the information? Will I have enough material to last an hour? Will the subject matter resonate with the audience? These are a few questions that may be going through your head during your next presentation. This is the traditional concept of the presentation: share all the information. A newer, alternative approach to presenting is emotional design.

It’s difficult to find a universal description for the fairly new concept of emotional design but one thought leader, Donald Normal, describes it as “recognizing the role that emotions play in our ability to understand the world around us.” In our case, this could be the presentation in front of us. Rather than ask, “What are my learners thinking about my material?” emotional design asks, “What are my learners feeling during my presentation?”

John Antonio, lead project coordinator for graduate medical education at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.

A traditional text-heavy presentation may convey everything you wish to say, but it can also hinder assimilation by making the learner feel flooded with information. A negative feeling towards the material can impede learning and participation in even the most disciplined students. Alternatively, incorporating emotional design in your next presentation will promote learners to be more receptive to the information.

As part of the Ethics, Professionalism and Policy Program at Baylor College of Medicine, we try to incorporate emotional design into our live presentations and videos. By doing so, we help medical residents assimilate more easily the highly scientific, and at times abstract material in ethics and professionalism. In a medical community in particular, this could be especially useful given the heavy emotional demands that are often placed on learners (extended hours, patient loads, peer competition, and so forth).

Below are concrete strategies to employ emotional design and ensure an impactful presentation.

  1. Ensure the presentation is lean and streamlined. The emotional design approach incorporates resources like photographs, efficient graphs or other minimalist representations of data. These help the learner to feel empowered and in control when approaching the information since they can assimilate the main points more easily. A cluttered slide can give learners the feeling of being overwhelmed rather than engaged with the material. Instead of displaying a long sentence, bullet points of two-three words will be much more accessible.
  1. Select images that convey a feeling. Ask, “How does this photo or design make me feel?” The image of an individual in a wheelchair in a waiting room may inspire more empathy than a body builder in a waiting room, although they are both patients. Different visual representations will evoke a variety of emotions that will aid in your information resonating with the learners. The most common positive emotions (and also sometimes most difficult to convey) are joy and humor, which most presenters at some point will try to make use of. However, presentations need not always be funny to be attractive. There is a wide range of positive emotions a presenter can appeal to including serenity, anticipation or surprise.
  1. Select colors that appropriate the mood of the topic. In the academic medical setting in particular, the presenter needs to be cognizant of how to convey serious subject matter. For example, the topic of medical errors is significant and teaching it may require another type of mood. The simple statement, “Medical errors are a leading cause of death” on a black background may be more effective than a complex comparative graph on a white one. Likewise, if a presenter wanted to highlight what “not to do” he or she might do so in red rather than green. A discrete use of the correct colors can be a subtle, yet effective contribution to emotional design.
  1. Use stock resources. At times it may be difficult to find the perfect illustrated Dilbert cartoon to get your point across. However, stock photo sites often contain generic medical or law themed illustrations which can present a theme like a patient-doctor relationship in one image. The designer can then add his or her own captions to tailor the message. Running a search of keywords (e.g. patient distress, medical professional, informed consent) will often turn up a surprising amount of theme-specific illustrations in a major stock photo site.

Take a few moments to incorporate one or two emotional design aspects in your next presentation. See how it can improve your learner engagement.

-By John Antonio, lead project coordinator for graduate medical education at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor

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