How to make your presentations memorable

When was the last time you cried?

Properly cried, all snot and spit, like Juliet Stevenson in the film “Truly, Madly, Deeply”?

When was the last time you laughed so hard that people could see your fillings and you made that funny snorting sound?

You can probably remember those moments in some detail. You know who you were with and you know what you were doing.

But can you remember the last time you felt a bit “meh”? Sort of OK, but nothing special?

Me neither.

Emotion helps memory move from short-term to long-term storage, and there’s research that suggests emotional memories are even prioritised in the consolidation process.

Emotion makes the memorable unforgettable.

So why do our presentations use information before emotion?

It’s partly because when we’re dealing with business people, we want to appear as business people. The language we use says to everyone around us: “Look, I’m a business person too, so you can take me seriously.” We talk about KPIs and B2Bs and ROIs, and the only reason we do so is to present ourselves in a certain way rather than communicate effectively.

But one thing to remember is that business people are still people. We have the same need for emotional stimulus, the same need for empathy and the same need to just be people.

Talking with emotion treats people like people, and it fixes your presentation in your audience’s long-term memory. They will remember you for the right reasons.

These are my top tips for presenting with emotion.

1. What do they care about?
This question is very different from “what do they need to know?” Knowing is about information; caring is about emotional connection. So ask yourself what your audience cares about; you should make them care before rolling out the information.

2. Peaks and troughs.
You’re not an infomercial selling the latest gadget that cleans both sides of your windows at the same time. (Yes, it exists. And yes, I bought one.) You don’t need to be excited all the time when you speak — it gets very tiring. So try structuring your presentation like a film. The starting point is usually a problem. The second reel is all about building up to the third reel: disaster. Which makes the fourth reel’s triumph even sweeter. Don’t hide your difficulties. Rather, refer to them. Most businesses will have suffered similar setbacks and the audience can build empathy with you.

3. Where are the people?
Authentic voices bring more than just a personal perspective — they bring a sense of inclusiveness, of collaboration and community. If you’re talking about a warehouse redesign, have people from the warehouse itself tell the audience how good it is. Don’t worry if they’re not professional speakers. You can show a video of them or, at the least, a picture and quote. People respond to stories about people, and especially so when those people are named. It’s what the tabloid press have known for decades.

4. Choose your language.
I’m sick of passion. Passion has become a meaningless word. “We’re passionate about accounting” isn’t something an audience will connect with. Everyone in business is passionate these days. “Passionate about” brings up around 208 million results in google.

Please stop being passionate.

You can love the way accounting helps business succeed, and you can make sure that your accounting is market leading, but don’t try and tell us you’re passionate about it. Your goal is not to show off how emotional you are but rather to engender an emotional response in the listener. Tell them how good your services are, show them how committed you are and let them get a rosy glow about how professional and trustworthy you are. Avoid the emotional clichés.

5. Pace.
One study suggests that people who speak quickly are more persuasive than those who speak slowly, especially when arguing against the listeners’ beliefs. So, if you think that emotion has no place in business, if I spoke quicker, you’re more likely to believe me. But pace is beyond a simple fast= good + slow = bad binary relationship. To create emotion in the audience, we need a mixed pace. The dramatic pause is splendid, and when followed by a rapid upswing resolution, it can’t help but get the audience involved.

If you’re still unsure about the power of emotion, get your phone out and ask yourself why you bought it. Was it because of the screen resolution? The connectivity to your other devices? The large range of apps?

No, you bought it because you liked it.

So if it can work for a phone…

Image credit: J J via flickr

 

Do's and Don'ts of giving a killer presentation

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About the author

John Rockley is Media and Presentation Trainer and Consultant at jdoubler. He spent 16 years with the BBC where he became a Senior Broadcast Journalist. Since starting jdoubler he’s trained senior teams across the UK & Europe in Media Engagement, Presentation Skills and Crisis Media planning. In his spare time he helps raise his 2 children, gets cross about the news, and does needle work. For more information go to jdoubler.co.uk or connect via LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube More blog posts by John Rockley ››
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  • Hi John was interesting reading this article, I like the approach of using emotion, as you say the thing I remember most are the one that have had an emotional impact on my life. Rarely do you have a meeting with presentations where you can get enthused about. So I like the take on it being almost a role you play as if your experiencing those emotions as well, which you are as your using your own experiences to get the message across and make it stick in the mind.

  • Thanks for this.
    Engaging with the audience is all about emotion as people are bombarded with presentations, webinars, etc., that are providing information.
    Whatever audience you are addressing, there will be mixed levels of technical and commercial understanding so jargon and facts do not deliver to all. Everyone, though, can relate to emotion and amplifying the pain and showing the road to ruin in a way in which the audience can empathise makes the delivery of the solution that much more effective.
    The audience know, or assume, that you know something they do not, otherwise why are you standing in front of them. They also know – to use your disliked phrase – that you are passionate about the subject, maybe because it is your development or getting others to take up the solution generates tangible benefits for you.
    They want to be engaged and not lectured or blinded with science.
    Putting the details in writing as you have within this blog categorises what many of us have been doing for years and helps us to mentor others in getting their point across.

  • Angela J Bailey

    Great message here John – just connect with people whether in business or in life… Allowing yourself to show the true person within, will always gain trust.

    LOL Infomercial’s got those window cleaners in your house too!

    • Gemma, Citrix Interactions

      I completely agree Angela. Being honest and open are two great ways to build trust amongst your audience.

  • Joanne Baker

    Fabulous article John- thank you. I agree with you about the word
    passion, it sounds totally hollow in both presenting and in
    conversation. Another word I think is overused is ‘Enthusiastic’ but
    that’s a whole new story. Oh and by the way- I speak fast (very happy
    about that)! Thank you again John.

    • Gemma, Citrix Interactions

      Hi Joanne – many thanks for your comment. If we’re banning the use of the words ‘passionate’ and ‘enthusiastic’, I wonder what we should use instead? :o)

      • Joanne Baker

        How about energetic (instead of enthusiastic), a firm believer in, wholeheartedly? I will have a think as it is an interesting question :-)

        • The difficulty is that actions and tone speak louder than words. If someone tells me they’re funny, I’d probably be disinclined to believe them until they prove it. If you have to tell someone you’re something, then you probably aren’t that thing… That said, most things are better than ‘passionate’!

  • Thanks for all the comments, it’s great to know that business people are ignoring the ‘business’ bit and just talking to people.

  • Joseph Bukenya

    The tips you have provided are important. A public presentation made on behalf of an organization can make or damage an organization’s image.

  • Keith Watterson

    Thought-provoking article, John. Isn’t it also the case that couching presentations in, or at least liberally sprinkling them with, figurative language is the most direct form of connection; rather than technical data which registers with the analytical part of the brain, i.e., most of the audience will be analysing rather than listening. Thanks for these very useful tips.

    • Figurative language is very important Keith, but if you go to my other post on Language Choice you may see it’s more difficult than that; What’s figurative in one territory may mean little in another!

  • Pierre Prince

    Tout simplement fabuleux!Merci pour cet article.

  • Richard S

    A good presentation is a marriage of great content, interesting visuals and an engaging speaker. I don’t think the article explains this complex recipe to be honest but some of the ideas are interesting.

    • I agree that the three things you cite are important Richard, but now define ‘great’, ‘interesting’ and ‘engaging’. You know what it looks like, and I’m sure that you can be all three of these things, but what are they? They’re ways of describing the result of the functionality I’ve tried to go into in this blog. Start with using the 5 elements that I’ve written about and the result is the 3 things you characterise.

  • Gerry Francis

    I kinda like this Blog.. The last presentation I went to the presenter including real life experience and events into his presentation in a funny thought provoking way..

  • Maurice

    A thought provoking article John. Interestingly in my business as a presentation coach I spend a great deal of my time addressing the challenge of the lack of passion in business presentations.
    It’s long been my experience that many business presenters seem to think that being professional means you have to be deadly serious all of the time which often results in a bored and disengaged audience. Personally I believe that often the key ingredient missing is passion. I agree it doesn’t serve anyone well to simply say it, passion has to be lived and shown but it has considerable power to enhance the emotional as well as intellectual connection. Please don’t stop being passionate!

    • Maurice, don’t ever stop BEING passionate! As William S Burroughs said in his ‘Words Of Advice For Young People’ – “In order to feel something, you have to be there”.

  • Tony R

    I just read this article and some of the earlier comments. I’ve done a few presentations in my time. Done many at work but also a lot in my time with Rotary International in Australia, New Zealand and England. I do agree with Maurice that a presenter’s personal “passion” is an important ingredient in getting the right mix of delivery, content, engagement, interest and entertainment. Call it commitment. Call it enthusiasm. It doesn’t really matter how it’s described as long as the presenter can convince the audience that he/she has it. It will be obvious in those first crucial minutes when that initial connection is made with the audience and maintained until the last word and the last slide.

  • Himay

    John, I’m a beginner at this but I have come about to understand what a good presentation is. From the days of blacking out in front of an audience to an average presenter now, I feel I’m more comfortable with the concept of public speaking. But, I still feel I lack that bit of voice modulation and pace that will work wonders. Can you go a bit deeper into how one can ‘learn’ to adjust their pace in a presentation?

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