How to Get an Audience to Remember Your Presentation
A post from our Presentation Skills blog
Written by Ashley Andrews
Presenting to an audience has never come naturally to me. I used to dread it. Then I learned how to prepare well and started to enjoy it a little more. But only with a lot of time and practice have I gotten to the point where I can confidently engage an audience.
That's why I really admire – and try to learn
from – presenters who are naturally gifted.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Steve Edge, a brand designer who also worked with Jim Henson and on the original Star Wars movies. He was a ball of energy – a bit irritating, actually, but full of enthusiasm and stories. He held the audience in the palm of his hand. Another really memorable speaker I'm glad to have seen live is Bear Grylls, the ex-SAS soldier who climbed Everest after recovering from a broken back. He was even more commanding in person than on TV, and his passionate message on environmental sustainability has really stayed with me.
Over the years, from these great presenters and many others, I've tried to pick up ideas and techniques for making my own presentations more enduring. Because if the audience doesn't remember you or your message, then you've failed.
In this article, I'm going to share six of the best techniques I've discovered for getting an audience to remember your presentation. And don't worry – they're all easy to understand and try out!
1. Hook your audience
Just like in a catchy song, the ‘hook' in a presentation is something memorable and surprising that the audience can't get out of their heads. You need a good hook if you want to grab their attention right from the start.
Doing something shocking
– surprise your listeners with a stark image, fact or problem that gets to the heart of your message. I've seen somebody whon was trying to help people become more assertive by standing up for, and asking for, what they want. So, in the presentation, the speaker waves a bank note up in the air, and asks who wants it. I suspect that most people thought it may be a trick, so only a few put up their hands. He then gives the cash to one of those that did, and says that it's theirs to keep. Suddenly, everyone was more awake, and remembered afterwards that you must ask for things if you want them!
Building around a strong metaphor
– Creative interpretations get your audience's imagination working. For example, a presentation to a failing team could relate the situation to the story of the Titanic... because they will sink if they don't change course fast!
In fact, this metaphor is so strong, that I've even seen it used as the theme for an entire book on leadership. The author compared the captain of the Titanic to the captain of the Carpathia, the ship that actually rescued 705 of the people from the Titanic and took them to New York.
Asking a difficult question
– Challenge your audience's default thinking and they'll remember your talk as provocative and different.
Your hook could be something completely different, of course – just make sure it's something surprising that fits your message.
2. Share something about yourself
I'm going to kick off with the technique that works best on me, personally, when I'm in a presentation audience.
If a speaker reveals something personal or vulnerable about themselves – a failing, a quirk, a lifelong passion or a journey they went on, for example – I'm pretty much guaranteed to like them a lot more. And when I like someone, I'm more likely to remember who they are and what they say. I suspect this is true for you, too.
Unfortunately, most people are really terrified to do this on stage!
It's a strange thing about us humans. Revealing our true selves is how we stand out, make an impact and make friends. But we're scared to do it, because we're scared of being judged. Well, if you want to give a memorable presentation, it's time to take a risk. Make your talk a little more personal, and you will be more relatable – and memorable.
3. Keep it simple
Now here's the lowest-risk, easiest-to-try technique on my list.
It's based on a fittingly simple premise: the simpler your message, the more memorable it will be. Or in other words, "the simpler the better." This is because human beings, no matter how intelligent they are, like simple ideas. They're easier for us to process, understand and store. When your core message is nice and simple, it's easier for you to communicate. The fewer long words and difficult concepts you have to grapple with on stage, the better you can perform.
So, work on boiling the core message of your presentation down to one simple, snappy sentence. Make sure you repeat that one core message plenty of times in your talk. Your audience now has a much better chance of remembering your big idea!
4. Keep it short
This one takes work and careful editing, but it's worth it. Here's why. When an audience is made to sit through a long, waffling presentation, they'll switch off. They might daydream, look at their phone, go to sleep... or they might even walk out. Not much chance of them remembering it then!
However, a presentation that respects the audience's time and is refined to include only useful content? That's the kind of talk an audience responds to – and remembers. So, include an editing or rewriting stage in your presentation prep process. Use that time to carefully review your script – ideally with a trusted colleague – and remove any unnecessary fluff.
In other words, hone your presentation script into a talk that is all killer and no filler. It will be much more memorable!
5. Tailor it to your audience
When it comes to presentations, one audience's treasure is another's trash.
Imagine you're an expert on artificial intelligence (AI). An audience of engineers would want to know how to build AI-powered products. But an audience of salespeople would want to know how to sell them. The engineers might be comfortable with the same technical jargon you use every day – but the salespeople might need non-technical language.
If you don't tailor your presentation to fit your audience, you risk either boring them or confusing them.
So, make sure you choose and use:
- The right message
- The right kind/level of language
- Imagery and examples that your audience can relate to
Do your best to meet the audience's needs, and they will find your presentation useful and memorable.
6. Share a genuine revelation
By ‘revelation' I mean a turning point when things changed for you; the moment when the thing you're presenting clicked for you, personally. These ‘a-ha' moments are usually the most fascinating part of any story. They connect the ‘before' world (i.e. before you discovered the amazing thing you're telling about) with the ‘after' world (i.e. the good place you reached after learning about the topic of your talk).
They're also usually the most memorable part of any presentation. Make sure you include an ‘a-ha moment' in your presentation!
7. Write a strong closing
The last minute of your presentation is your last chance to make it memorable. That's why it's so important.
You can give a summary that literally reminds the audience what you told them. You can also repeat your key messages one last time, telling your audience what you want them to take away. A strong call to action – telling the audience exactly how and why they should act on what you've told them – is also a great way to send them home with your words on their mind. A good closing can make the difference between a forgettable presentation, and one the audience truly learned from. Take time to make it great.
Now don't forget these tips!
And that's it – you're ready to write and deliver the most memorable presentation of your life!
So be authentic, keep it short and simple, know your audience, share your ‘a-ha' moment, and wrap it all up with a good call to action. It's that easy – so good luck, and I hope you'll share your own techniques and experiences in the comments.