10 Presentation Tips No. 7: Identify the Memory
This is the seventh post in a 10-post series on tips for effective presentations. For an explanation as to why I’m adding this series to a data-oriented blog, see the intro to the first post in the series. To view other tips in the series, click here.
Tip No. 7: Be Memorable By Identifying the Memory
This tip is really about simplicity and clarity. Accept at the outset that only a fraction of what you present is going to be retained by the audience, so it’s much better to have a small handful of key takeaways and then spend your time reinforcing those points.
The earlier in the development of your presentation that you clearly articulate for yourself what it is you want your audience to take away, the better off the presentation will be.
This is such an easy point to skip that, well, most presenters do!
The process that is required in order for information to get from a presenter’s mouth all the way to an audience member’s long-term memory requires multiple steps:
- The material first gets captured/absorbed by iconic memory, which has a sub-second retention time
- If the person is “paying attention,” the information will then be transferred into short-term memory, which lasts only a few seconds, but is where it can be consciously considered
- If the material that is in short-term memory is sufficiently repeated and reinforced by the audience member’s own cognitive processing, it will actually make it into long-term memory so that it can be recalled the next day, next week, or next month
Bringing focus to the presentation and not being overly ambitious about how much information you want to convey enables you to build a presentation that repeats and reinforces the key points sufficiently that they are more likely to make it to the long-term memory banks of your audience.
Over the past few years, almost every formal presentation I have developed has started with me jotting down in my notebook the question, “What do I want the audience to take away from the presentation?” I then take multiple stabs at answering the question clearly and succinctly in writing (often revisiting my answer over several days in brief spurts). It can be surprisingly difficult, but it’s an exercise well worth the effort!
The answer to this question becomes a recurring litmus test for everything that goes into the presentation:
- Does content that is being considered speak directly to the desired takeaways?
- If not, is the content critical supporting information for the takeaways?
I can point to cases where a picture, diagram, or point that was one of the first things I put into a slide for a presentation — and was an idea or concept that actually sparked the whole idea for the presentation — ultimately got dropped when I considered it against these questions. This can be really tough, as it can means dropping content that is clever or insightful…but that is ancillary and nonessential. Dropping this content is the right thing to do — otherwise, you risk having your audience completely miss (or fail to retain) the fundamental purpose of the presentation.
For an hour-long presentation, aiming for 2-3 key takeaways is about right. That may sound like an unduly small number, but it’s reality. Think about the last presentation you sat through and jot down the main points. How long is your list?
The more focused your presentation is, and the more clear you are on the key points that you want your audience to retain, the better your presentation will be.