If you want to capture the attention and imagination of your audience, you should weave novel and surprising information into your presentation. New and interesting information makes people sit up and take notice. And the information can be remembered more easily, too.
That’s because memory is dependent on dopamine, a chemical in the brain. When you learn something new, your brain releases dopamine which functions like a “save” button. The more novel and exciting the information, the more dopamine is released, and thus the greater our ability to remember it.
What were you doing on September 11, 2001? What about September 11, 2002? Without a doubt, your memory of the former date will be far more vivid. Extreme moments are unforgettable – and if such a moment happens during your presentation, chances are your audience will remember your talk, and spread the word to boot.
In 2009, Bill Gates delivered a TED talk that subsequently went viral. His presentation even caught the attention of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who – though it’s unusual for such events to be treated as “news” – mentioned Gates’ talk on the air.
Gates’ presentation was about how fatal diseases such as malaria are transmitted via mosquitoes. As he held up a jar filled with live mosquitoes for his audience to see, Gates said that he saw no reason why only poor people should be at risk of being infected this way – then he opened the jar and set the mosquitoes free!
Although Gates quickly added that these particular mosquitoes were free of malaria, his extreme action caused his talk to go viral. The presentation chalked up 2.5 million views on the TED website, and a Google search for the talk returns some 500,000 results.
But it’s not only extreme actions that can distinguish your presentation from the rest. Shocking statistics also can grab your audience’s attention. While you prepare your presentation, it’s worthwhile searching for interesting facts or statistics that illustrate your argument.
Humor has a positive effect on our relations with others. Indeed, studies show that we attribute such desirable and positive traits as friendliness, intelligence and emotional stability to people who have a good sense of humor. In a similar way, humor can play a crucial role in business settings or during a presentation. There are several ways to do this.
One approach is to share anecdotes. Perhaps something funny happened to you earlier in the day that you can talk about? It’s not important to go for a big laugh; instead, your aim should be to elicit a smile and a chuckle from the audience. Another approach is to use analogies and metaphors.
In a talk about the negative societal effects of economic inequality, University of Nottingham professor Richard Wilkinson described how Denmark has a low level of inequality and a healthy, happy population.
Ever noticed that after sitting through a long talk you feel exhausted and physically depleted? Your audience may face the same problem. The solution? Keep your presentation short. This makes it far easier for audiences to remember the content.
Presentations at TED conferences usually take 18 minutes, which is considered a good length as it fits perfectly in the optimum period of 15 to 20 minutes. In addition to keeping your presentation short, keep in mind that it should not cover more than three separate themes.
So, the fewer the chunks, the easier it is to remember them – which is why a presentation should cover no more than three aspects. These aspects can be organized in a message map. To do this, you must first answer the question: “What’s the single most-important message I want my audience to take away?”
Once you’ve got your answer, write that message at the top of a piece of paper – like a headline. Next, you have to find the three (or fewer) messages which support your headline message, and list them underneath it. Finally, beneath each of these three supporting messages, you can outline their specific content: the “meat” of your presentation.
Think about the last time you were sunbathing. How did your skin feel? What did you smell? What did your surroundings look and sound like? How well can you remember all the details? We remember things more vividly when we experience them with all of our senses.
It follows that if you want to create memorable presentations, you should communicate in a way that appeals to more than just one sense. Here, we’ll look at how to communicate information via the two central senses: sight and hearing.
There are basically two ways to communicate information via sight: pictures and text. You’ve probably noticed that the best TED talks use pictures rather than PowerPoint presentations that are often dense with text. This makes sense, as we have a limited capacity for absorbing information. Thus, a PowerPoint presentation filled with words can overwhelm and distract your audience.
Instead, use pictures to support your presentation, paired with a few focused keywords that support your argument. Our sense of hearing can be stimulated by rhetorical devices, such as repetition.
Take Martin Luther King’s famous speech, in which he repeated these four words: “I have a dream.” These words are still remembered today, and we immediately associate them with King.
A more recent example is Barack Obama’s famous phrase, “Yes, we can,” which helped unite the electorate around his message and get him elected as president of the United States.
The ability to present ideas in a persuasive way is one of the core skills needed in the twenty-first century. When you deliver a presentation, it’s important to make it stand out; to do so, you need to connect emotionally with your audience. And if you want your audience to remember your talk, keep it short, cover no more than three themes and appeal to your audience’s senses. And keep practicing!
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