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3 surprisingly easy ways to improve your next presentation

Campbell Such | Aug. 5, 2015
These little known but practical steps can work whether you are presenting to a single person or a group.

A favourite quote of a colleague of mine is: "The faintest words on paper are better than the strongest memory."

Contrary to what we believe about the strength of our memories, rather than a movie with sound and video, our memories more like a series of snapshots. A jigsaw puzzle of the past that we later fill in the blanks between. As Elizabeth Loftus, one of the pioneer researchers in the field of altered memories, found was that recalling a memory can alter it, as can the context it's recalled in or the words used by someone else to question what happened.

So what will the audience remember from your presentation?

It turns out that after a few days the audience will generally remember little of the specific content. What they will remember are the moments, or snapshots, that invoke an emotional response in them, or are linked to an existing vivid experience -- such as fear, laughter or excitement.

There are two areas where you do have some control over the shutter on the audience's memory camera.

In a presentation there are two areas where you do have some control over the shutter on the audience's memory camera:

  • Anything related to a strong emotional reaction to something in, or around, the content of your presentation.
  • The feeling they have at the end of your presentation.

How can you use this?

Aim to create an emotional response at some point in the presentation. Ideally related to the main theme or point you want to get across. A relevant story is a great way to do this -- especially one with humour and/or tragedy/loss.

For ideas on how to add humour to your presentations David Nihill's book 'Do you Talk Funny' is excellent.

Aristotle identified the three pillars of persuasion - Ethos, Pathos, Logos and it's the Pathos (emotional) pillar that our memories are anchored on. Get them to laugh or get them to cry, but make sure they 'feel' your presentation. Aim to finish with a call to action and to have your audience leave with a strong feeling that supports that call to action.

3. The 'good' and 'bad' sides of the presentation space

Would you be surprised to know that the Italian word for left (sinistra) has the same Latin language roots as sinister? (Cue scary music).

And it's a little known fact that the word we use for being able to use both hands, ambidextrous, means having two right hands.

Oh, and leaders often have a 'right hand man'.

My wife's twin brother was naturally left-handed -- but, as a youngster, he was forced to write with his right hand, because being left-handed was considered 'bad'.


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