Real Time Whiteboard Visuals Elicit Consumer Engagement

Part I - Why Viewers Don't Remember Content After PowerPoint Presentations

Whiteboard Presentations Are Consumer Favorites. Getty Images | Hero Images | Digital Visions

Nearly everyone has suffered through long and boring PowerPoint presentations.  And most of us have been guilty of using PowerPoint in ways it was never intended.  Resources abound that provide guidelines to a better PowerPoint presentation or a better way to use imagery and photographs to tell a visual story. 

Professor Zachary Tormala of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, conducted two experiments to determine the relative effectiveness of presentations using different types of integral visuals.

 The first study focused on measuring attributes of whiteboard and PowerPoint presentations in categories of engagement, credibility, presentation quality, and recall.  The second study measured the persuasiveness of presentations using different types of visuals. This article explains the methodology and results of the first experimental study.  A second article addresses the perceived persuasiveness of the several presentations. 

Professor Tormala conducted the first study as an experimental test of three approaches to visual storytelling in order to compare whiteboard visuals with two types of PowerPoint presentations. Tormala aimed to gauge the effectiveness of the three approaches with regard to perceived credibility, engagement, enjoyment, persuasive impact, and recall.  

The PowerPoint Experiment

All participants watched a two-minute video about a phenomenon called the attention hammock in which the attention of listeners is high at the start and end of a presentation, but diminishes during the middle part of the spoken message.

 The 351 participants of the online study were assigned to one of three groups in which they were shown different visuals while listening to the same spoken message.  The experimental conditions were as follows:

  • Whiteboard Condition - Automated presentation with hand-drawn graphics accompanied the spoken message.
  • Traditional PowerPoint Condition - Conventional slideshow of bullet points and stock photography.
  • Zen PowerPoint Condition - One key phrase and an accompanying metaphorical image.

Here Is How the Whiteboard Wins

Even though the participants all received the same information, the performance of the whiteboard presentation was superior to a statistically significant degree.  The whiteboard was superior to the two other PowerPoint presentations in the following categories.

Engagement - Viewers were 9 percent more engaged during the whiteboard presentation than during either of the two PowerPoint presentations, which did not differ measurably from each other.  Viewers reported that, compared to the other two PowerPoint presentations, the whiteboard presentation was more interesting, that they paid more attention to it, and that it made them think more deeply about the content. 

Credibility - The whiteboard presentation resulted in an 8 percent increase in perceived credibility compared to the PowerPoint and Zen presentations.  The viewers reported that they considered the whiteboard presentation to be more credible based on scientific evidence.  In addition, the study participants gave higher trustworthiness and experience ratings to their whiteboard presenter.


Presentation Quality - Viewer participants of the whiteboard condition rated the presentation as  clearer and easier to understand, more enjoyable, and better overall compared to the ratings of participant viewers of the PowerPoint and Zen conditions.

Recall - Viewer participants of the whiteboard condition were able to accurately remember significantly more of the message content in a recall test at the end of the presentation session than the viewer participants of the PowerPoint and Zen conditions.  It is notable that the viewer participants of the whiteboard presentation achieved roughly a 16 percent improvement in message content memory than the recall numbers achieved by the viewer participants of the PowerPoint and Zen condition presentations. 

More information about the Tormala research studies on PowerPoint and whiteboard presentations can be seen in this video interview conducted by Terry Riesterer of



Morgan, N. (2014, September 9).  Which is better - PowerPoint or a flip chart.  Forbes.

Riesterer, T. (2014).  Whiteboard beats Powerpoint as persuasive storytelling tool.  Corporate Visions.