Make your next presentation stick with your audience

Make your next presentation stick with your audience

In a world saturated with information and presentations, being memorable is critical. One recent survey reported that technology workers hear on average one presentation a day.

You need to make your presentations memorable if you are to have any chance of having your ideas live on and get traction. By invoking two key tools—variation and emotion—you can help your audience to remember your content and call to action.

Your job as a presenter is to engage your audience, to pull them forward in their seats. Unfortunately, audiences can be easily distracted, and they habituate quickly. To counter these natural tendencies, you must diversify your material to keep people’s attention, with variation in your voice, variation in your evidence, and variation in your visuals.

If you are speaking about a big opportunity – then speak in a “big” way

You have likely been the victim of a monotonous speaker who drones on in a flat vocal style, like Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Vary your volume and speaking rate to help keep your audience’s attention and motivate them to listen. And by speaking expressively, your passion for your topic comes through. However, for many presenters, especially those newer to English, this type of speaking is not natural. I often instruct less expressive speakers to infuse their presentations with emotive words, such as “excited,” “valuable,” and “challenging,“ and to inflect their voice to reflect the meaning of these words. If you are speaking about a big opportunity, then speak “big” in a big way. With practice, you will feel more comfortable with this type of vocal variety.

Use three different types of evidence to support claims

Varying the type of evidence you use to support the claims in your presentation is equally important. Too often, presenters exclusively use their favorite type of evidence. You might over-rely on data or on anecdotes. But both qualitative and quantitative academic research have found that when you triangulate your support you provide more compelling and memorable results.

So, try providing three different types of evidence, such as a data point, a testimonial, and an anecdote. This triangulation neatly reinforces your point, and it allows your audience multiple opportunities to connect with your idea and remember it, which is why it’s a technique often used by advertisers to reinforce that you should buy their product. By varying your voice and evidence, you will make the words you speak more memorable.
Help your audience focus – they struggle to multitask.

But what your audience sees is also critical. Just as a monotonous speaker can cause mental shutdown in an audience, repetitive body movements, and slides jammed with words can fatigue and distract an audience.

People are very poor multitaskers. When distracted by spurious gestures or a wall of bullet points, audience members have fewer cognitive resources available to remember the content of what you’re saying.

To increase the variety of your nonverbal delivery (e.g., gestures and movement), audio record yourself delivering your presentation, then play the recording while you move and practice your gestures. Since you do not have to think about what to say, you can play with adding variation to your body movement without the distraction of speaking.

Using authentic emotion can help your message stick

Emotion sticks. People remember emotionally charged messages much more readily than fact-based ones. In fact, modern scientists are finding that our emotional responses have a fast track to our long-term memory. So when possible, try to bring some emotion into your presentation, whether in the form of your delivery or the content itself.  This emotion will bolster engagement in the moment and memory in the future.

To help your audience remember your message, work to have your tone and delivery match the emotional impact you desire. You must take time to reflect on the emotional response you want and then work to make sure that your delivery is congruent with the emotional impact you desire. However, be careful not to be too scripted or theatrical. For emotion to help you, it must be authentic and credible.

I am often challenged when I assert that emotion is an important ingredient for engagement and memory. My technical and scientific clients and students claim that their presentations need to be highly detailed and descriptive, and, thus, emotion is antithetical and incompatible to their speaking goals.

I fully believe that even the most technical and scientific talks can have emotion infused in them. Further, I have seen first-hand how emotion can elevate the involvement, impact, and memory of these types of presentations.

The best way to bring emotion in is to focus on benefits and implications of the technology or science. Benefits are inherently emotional….saving time, saving money, saving trees, saving lives…these are emotional.

I recently worked with a large graphics chip maker whose standard presentations are jammed full of technical detail, jargon, and data. These presentations lead to what one of my former students termed “verbal anesthesia.” Audience members were overwhelmed with the presenters’ information and underwhelmed in their comprehension and retention. However, once the presenters focused on the benefits of the graphics chips to the audience’s lives, such as powering their mobile devices, car navigation systems, etc., the presentations had more impact.

By including an emotional component to your presentations via your tone, delivery, and connection to your audience, you can expedite engagement and increase long-tern retention.

By invoking specific techniques and practices, you can deliver a presentation that is memorable for your audience, no matter your presentation environment or topic. When used, these tools will lead to confident, compelling, and connected presentations.

20 habits of truly brilliant presenters

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About the author

Matt Abrahams is a passionate, collaborative and innovative educator, author, and coach.  Matt is Co-Founder and Principal at Bold Echo Communication Solutions, a presentation and communication skills company based in Silicon Valley that helps business executives and professionals improve their presentation skills. He is also a lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business where he teaches two very popular classes in Strategic Communication and Effective Virtual Presenting.  Finally, he wrote the acclaimed business communication book entitled Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. More blog posts by Matt Abrahams ››
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