Saturday, November 3

Making Memories

Unforgettable, that's what yooOOOou aaaaaare!

Dr. Harry Cotton of the Canadian Institute of English who is a teacher and public speaker of 30 years experience in several countries once said to me that people retain roughly 30% of a speech they hear. Do you realize what that means? If you have 5 important points to bring out, your audience will remember 1, and half of an other. Well it doesn't really work that way but you get my drift. How can you make your presentations indelible? There is a panoply of methods for giving your public speaking more "stickiness" - for sticking to memory - and in this article we will discuss a few. After all, you want to be remembered for how good your talk was and not how bad.

The Importance of a Clear Outline

In the last Public Speaking 101 article we touched on using an outline and clarifying the key points of your talk for using them as way-finders to keep you from becoming overly nervous. Doing this also helps highlight the practical value of your discussion. If the points are remarkably clear, then you increase the likelihood of your audience remembering the most valuable part of your discourse. The clear outline is your foundation, if it is complex and unwieldy the whole thing becomes unstable.

Start With a Bang!

The way you introduce yourself and the subject material has a huge impact on the success of the presentation. It can pique interest or lose the listeners. Depending on the circumstance 'making an entrance' can mean different things but there is nothing more boring than 'Ladies and gentleman thank you for attending...'. Though some ceremonious occasions call for more restrained speaking methods there is always a way to pump up an intro. Modulation of your tone of voice, gesturing, a little joke. In some settings however, you can really go wild! Blare loud music and come in doing cart wheels, drive in on a bicycle - a motor cycle too would be great - throw candy at the audience.

Now that you have their attention you must introduce your subject. Many speakers use the 'I'll tell you what I'm gonna tell you' approach. Despite the fact that I do agree with the strength of such an intro I think it is used so often in a weak way that another approach is generally best. A superior and less used approach is to speak of what will be learned and of benefit during your discourse. A series of questions also works great because it increases the level of interaction (we'll expound on interaction in a few paragraphs). 'Baiting' is another good tactic if used in a friendly manner. "In the next few minutes we are going to learn how the world works!" It creates suspense and encourages curiosity. However you decide to introduce your discussion make sure that you highlight why it's important for the audience to pay attention.

Finally, be brief! Make it short, concise and then head right into the meat of your talk. If you lag, the audience's enthusiasm for your subject will wan.

Features and Benefits

While you compose your outline, keep in mind your audience. They are a mosaic of individuals and knowing where their respective centers of interest lies will have a direct impact on the quality of your discourse. Ask yourself: 'How will the ideas that I will offer be useful to the listeners? and how will I deliver the message?'. The answers to these questions will help you trim, collate and shape your ideas. For instance, suppose you must communicate something that will be foreign to some of the crowd but very familiar to others in attendance. In that case the practical value for the former part of the audience is evident and simple but the latter part is likely to be bored hearing something they know like the back of their hand. How can you highlight the practical value of your message and make it memorable? One way would be to reinforce their conviction of the veracity of the message by pointing out some facts on the issue or somehow illustrating the exactitude of what you are saying, perhaps by demonstrating how a particular principle applies in a real-life situation. Personally I find it helps to think in a feature/benefit scheme. Your key points are the features while what the audience takes away from your discussion is the 'what's in it for me?' part, the benefits.

Adding Interactivity

If we remember only 30% of what we hear, the same is not true for what we do. When allowed to participate we retain much more. For this reason I advise that you do not talk to the audience but talk with them. Ask them questions. Request their opinion. But what if you are speaking in a formal setting before a large crowd? The potential for direct interactivity is reduced but indirect interactivity can work just as well. You can still pose queries and pause to cue the listeners to think on what you just said... You can also get their opinion by a show of hands. There are many ways to get an audience to participate, no matter the setting. Make an amusing quiz, pass out objects, make them juggle and bounce balloons (a technique I found incredibly useful for teaching) or do jumping jacks. The possibilities are numerous. Be bold and creative!


We tend to remember the first and last thing of a speech. The introduction and the conclusion. Therefore it is judicious to end with a summary. It must be short. The audience will sense that you are wrapping up and if you take too long they will not remember the excellent points you brought out, they will remember "that guy who wouldn't shut up". Citing the features and benefits in a few sentences is good and always highlight the benefit of applying what you discussed. If someone was taking notes and only caught the conclusion of your presentation they should be able to jot down a few quick words and have the gist of it to take home and tell someone else what your presentation was about. One method I've used many times, I simply read my outline to the audience, making sure it doesn't sound like a grocery list of course.

Should you end with a bang in the same way you entered? That is a valid question. I would argue against it in most cases, especially if you are part of a series of speakers or events. Listening to a good talk requires a certain degree of energy and you don't want to exhaust your listeners. If you want the audience to remember you, then I suppose it might be appropriate in some cases. Conversely, if you want the speech to be remembered it is best not to distract from it by drawing attention to yourself. If you find a way to consolidate both interests, by all means let me know.

So let me apply my own advice here

Make sure your outline is simple and clear.
Make a dramatic entrance, introduce your subject quickly, laying out the benefits of 'staying tuned'.
While highlighting your key points also highlight the benefits.
Add interactivity.
Conclude with a summary of your 'features and benefits'.

By applying these sound principles you will see that your audience, be they interviewers, employees or a large crowd, will remember what you discuss with them and apply it with increased gusto.

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