How many presentations have you sat through in your life? More than likely it’s too many to count, let alone remember. How many really good presentations have you seen which conveyed their points in a truly memorable way? Less than a handful probably. The human memory is fallible and unreliable and our short-term memory finds it particularly difficult to remember lots of information for any significant period of time. So if you’re presenting, how do you make sure that the points you make have a lasting impact on your audience? How do you make your message stick?
- Keep it simple
In an ideal world, any presentation should have just one core message. This needs to be the theme or overarching idea you want to convey and should run through every part of your presentation, like a visible red thread. You can illustrate this message in different ways throughout your speech, but be careful not to muddy the message with too much clutter, so preferably use no more than three points to bring your message to life.
- Be visual
The human brain finds it easier to remember images than words, so choose pictures for your presentation wisely. Think carefully about the message you want to convey and be creative in your use of imagery to illustrate your point. A picture which makes your audience react will be much more memorable than a boring or predictable stock image.
- Generate an emotional response
There are six core human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. By triggering an emotional response in your audience, you and your message will have a lasting impact. You can do this in several ways, such as using emotional words rather than traditional ‘business speak’. For instance, “I miscalculated” becomes “I made a stupid mistake”. You can also use humour or the unexpected to generate an emotional reaction, so don’t be afraid to shock your audience. As the author Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Tell a story
There is nothing more memorable than a good story. Paul J Zak of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies explains that “experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of those points weeks later.” He has even identified the most memorable type of stories: those which convey a human struggle and eventual triumph, so bring your message to life with a captivating story and it will live on well after your presentation has finished.
- Involve your audience
Passive listening is far less effective than active participation in triggering memory. Learning by doing is an age-old technique for teaching and there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate it into your presentation. Involve your audience in an exercise which demonstrates your message or ask them to give you feedback or input during your presentation will really boost the impact of your message.
- Make it personal
People are ultimately self-interested, so think about how your audience can benefit from your message and show them what’s in it for them. Ensuring that they can see the personal payoff will boost their recall of what you’re saying and make them more likely to take action as a result of your presentation.
- End with impact
Lots of public speakers focus on how they’re going to open their presentation and the main contents of their speech but then forget about making an impact at the end. However, studies show that the closing section is the bit most people will remember so make it good! You don’t necessarily have to save the best till last, but finish with a flourish and your audience will leave the room with a lasting impression.