The goal of every presenter is to have their message remembered. In her book, Impossible to Ignore, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon explores this goal. She reminds us that people can forget 90% of our content within a few day is of our presentation. She describes this as the Point A to Point B Problem. Understanding this problem is especially important if your presentation is trying to influence a decision.
Point A is the point where a communication is delivered and Point B is the point in the future where a decision is made. To have a chance at influencing the decision, your key messages need to be remembered at Point B. Also, between Point A and Point B there is often a time gap. Depending on the type of project, the gap between Point A and Point B might be measured in weeks or months.
Dr. Simon recommends that way to be remembered is through the use of cues or triggers, sticky notes for the memory. These cues should be something your audience will come across in their world. Something that will remind them of your key messages. She states that:
“This memory trigger method is certainly more powerful than the standard leave-behind. In fact, as the world is becoming increasingly more complex, you will only be as memorable as the items that are likely to trigger memories of you in your clients’ environment. Create a strong association between your content and sub-sequent triggers and you will be consistently and effortlessly on people’s minds.”
It’s a tough job designing and delivering an interesting and audience focused presentation. It is even tougher to create memory cues and get them into your presentation. I have been experimenting with some ideas, I will let you know how the experiments turn out in a later blog post.
But for now, how can you make sure your messages are unforgettable?
We all know that a presentation will have the greatest impact if the audience is engaged. Typically there are four ways a presenter can connect with and engage the audience.
- Aurally: what they hear
How an audience hears a presenter can be as important as what they hear. How does the presenter sound – excited or neutral? How is the message phrased? Do you use acronyms and jargon that the audience doesn’t know? These are just three aural examples which affect the audience connection.
- Visually: what they see
We humans are sensitive to what we see. A presenter’s visuals should be simple, attractive and appropriate to the topic AND also appropriate for the audience. Traditional bullet lists on slides almost never meet these criteria, in fact they can disengage the audience from a presenter.
- Emotionally: arousing/transferring emotion
People are emotionally driven; we make decisions emotionally, we communicate emotionally. A presenter must transfer their own excitement, concern, and passion to the audience. One of the most powerful way to do this is through stories – share appropriate stories. Have a conversation with the audience, as many great presenter do, talk with them not at them.
- Intellectually: rational logical information
While people are emotional they also need facts, figures, and logic to make sense of the world. Only use facts and arguments that will resonate with the specific audience, and avoid anything that isn’t directly related.
Paying attention to what/how the audience hears, what they see, how they feel, and what they think will provide for an optimal presentation experience with maximum impact.
Connecting with an audience, having a conversation with them, is not easy – especially if it is a large audience. One thing you can do is to remove the barriers, “the bricks in the wall”, which stand between you and them. Much like a tall center piece makes it difficult to have a conversation with a person across the dining table, physical elements in a meeting room can act like center pieces, like walls, and make it hard to connect with your audience. Examples of these physical barriers include podiums, tables and distance from the audience.
A while ago I did a presentation in a room that had some “bricks” between the speaker and the audience. My routine pre-presentation check of my slides, videos, and audio went well, but the physical setup of the room was challenging. Anywhere I stood on the stage there was a physical barrier between myself and part of the audience.
Podiums (see the picture above) are particular bad for most speakers, including me; they create a wall. If you are very tall perhaps you may get away with it, but the vast majority of speakers get lost to the audience when they are behind a podium. When I asked the hotel about changing the set up of the room their response was “no”, they really couldn’t. The podium and cables were secured to the stage and they couldn’t move the tables.
They did however provide me with a wireless microphone. This enabled me to stand in the best place I could think of – the floor in front of the stage, which is where I presented from. You need to be seen to be truly “heard” and figuring this out should be part of your preparation. Sometimes you have few options, but as presenters we need to consider how to ensure a connection with the audience.
There can be physical “bricks” that create a wall between you and your audience, make the effort to get rid of as many of them as you can.
My wife and editor decided to buy this center piece because it was decorative, low and unobtrusive.