Ten ways to make your presentation memorable

How much of your presentation will your audience remember – and for how long?

Studies have drawn similarly discouraging conclusions. One, based on a 10-minute presentation, showed that people remembered just 50% of what was said immediately afterwards, dropping to 25% the next day and a mere 10% a week later.

Another, based on an online presentation of 20 slides, showed that people remembered just four out of 20 slides after 48 hours.

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to make your presentations more memorable overall and increase the chances that your audience will remember the most important bits. Here are my top tips:

1. Don’t strain the audience’s attention span

There are very good reasons why TED talks are never allowed to exceed 20 minutes, since this is held to be the longest that adults are able to sustain attention on one thing. http://bit.ly/1nkgv9B  People can pay attention for longer when they are enjoying themselves or highly motivated, so make sure your presentation is entertaining and closely aligned with your audience’s concerns.

2.  If it has to be longer than 20 minutes, break it up

People can choose to refocus their attention, which is why we can sit through films lasting two hours or more. But it takes a change of pace, topic or activity. Ways to achieve this include:

  • taking a short break
  • moving into interactive mode
  • telling a (relevant) story
  • showing a (relevant) video. I break up my presentations about media skills with YouTube videos of truly appalling media interviews. I think people learn as much from watching these as from listening to me
  • making the audience work (see 10. Below).

 3. Design your presentation like a journey

Be explicit about your overall goal in giving the presentation and how you want to change your audience’s attitudes and/or behaviour (the destination). Then set out the key themes you will explore during the presentation (the stops along the way). ‘Signpost’ your movement from one theme to another so that people can work out where they are on the journey and how far they have to go. Finally summarise the presentation so that they can see how far they have come. All this builds your presentation into a connected whole, which makes it much easier to remember. For more advice on presentation structure, see my previous blog post on this topic

4. Grab the audience’s attention in the first few seconds…

…by doing, saying or showing something dramatic, unusual or unexpected, or making a compelling case for why the audience needs to listen. If you don’t engage your audience in the first minute, the subsequent fall-off in attention is rapid and often irreversible. And if they’re not listening at the time they are certainly not going to be remembering later! For ideas on attention-grabbers see my relevant blog post

5. Restrict yourself to 3-4 key points

Research shows that people can’t hold more than three or four chunks of information in their short-term memories. And if you can’t get into short-term memory you haven’t a hope of reaching long-term memory. If you have to cover more than this number of topics, chunk them into no more than three or four ‘categories’.

6. Present the most important material at the beginning – and again at the end

People tend to remember best what they hear first (the ‘primacy effect’) and – to a lesser extent – what they hear last (the ‘recency effect’). Things that come in the middle are more likely to be forgotten.

7. Repeat, repeat, repeat

According to Susan M Weinschenk, an expert in communications psychology, repetition is one of the best ways to help people move things from short-term into long-term memory.  Make sure you repeat your most important points at least three times, using different language and different examples each time.

8. Use plenty of pictures

Humans tend to think in pictures and research shows that words plus pictures are six times more likely to be remembered after three days than words alone. This is known as the ‘picture superiority effect’.

9. Employ metaphors, analogies and examples

Facts, figures and data can be overwhelming and hard to absorb. But metaphors and analogies that relate closely to familiar objects and concepts create mental images that leave lasting imprints in the brain. Recently I was struggling to understand and retain information about a ground-breaking new gene editing tool that is set to revolutionise drug discovery and disease treatment. As a non-scientist nothing about it made sense until I heard it referred to as a ‘cut-and-paste’ technology. As a writer I understand cut-and-paste. I use it every day. Four weeks later I can still describe how that technology works.

 10. Make the audience work

It takes effort to move information from short term to long term memory and the more deeply your audience has to think about what you say the more likely they are to remember it later. Make your audience work by:

  • asking questions – and demanding answers
  • using voting keypads or shows of hand to assess opinion at various stages
  • sending them into breakout areas or separate rooms to put your theory into practice
  • getting them to summarise the take-homes from your talk.


How Clearsay can help

Clearsay Communications works with professionals from all sectors to improve their spoken communication skills for use in presentations, media interviews and meetings of all kinds. To find out what we could do for you, return to the Home Page.