• James Walton

The Biggest Threat to Your Presentation and How to Overcome It

The biggest threat to your presentation is being forgettable. All the work you've done to define what you want your audience to know and what you want them to do because of it, all the effort invested into wrestling words onto the page with some sense of clarity and conviction, all the hours spent rehearsing and rehearsing, the intentionality to overcome stage fright ... all of it can be lost if the audience doesn't remember any of it.  150 years ago, Hermann Ebbenhaus theorized his forgetting curve, which suggests that we forget most of what we hear, and we do so quickly. And for the past 150 years, most every professor has proven Ebbenhaus correct. If you're not careful, you'll prove him correct as well. There's a way to overcome this threat: engage multiple senses in your audience.  The more senses you can engage your audience with, the more they engage and retain your content.  Here's a few ideas for injecting multi-sensory experiences into your presentation:

  • Think deeply and creatively about your slide deck that will accompany your talk. Aim for slides with 6 words or less on them. The slide amplifies or illustrates your main point, it does not describe it.

  • When talking about a place, include a photo. Or a map that shows the geographical relationship to what's around it.

  • When talking about a large number, make it visual. I once illustrated the size of an ancient city by showing a full college football stadium with the same number of occupants.

  • If the size of the group facilitates, allow participants the space to learn from each other. Break out into small workgroups to solve a problem, process a small case study, or consider a common question.

  • Find a phrase that encapsulates your message and repeat it numerous times throughout your presentation. Have your audience repeat that phrase back to you. It might seem childish, but it works. 

If you don't want to be forgotten, you must be memorizable. Complexity is your enemy; clarity is your friend. Everything should reinforce this clarity. The old preacher's trick of three alliterated points is even too much. Say one thing. Say it repeatedly. Reinforce that thing through visuals, stories, thought questions, examples and repeated phrases.  Aim for lasting impact. Your ideas are too important to be forgotten. June is Presentation Month at Trellis Group, and this is one of 8 short articles we'll publish this month. Each aims to make you a more effective communicator. If a friend or colleague could benefit, please send them this link to subscribe

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