The Successful Presenter

Communicate When It Counts

How Presenters Change Memories



Every presenter’s goal is that their information is remembered, used, or applied in some way. But how can presenters change memories? How can they access the long-term memory of their audience?
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An interesting article from the Harvard Business Review entitled
“Getting an Audience to Remember Your Presentation” by Art Markham states that the purpose of presentations is to influence the explicit memory of the audience. Markham argues that, for presentations to have high impact, speakers need to be aware of how information gets into memory.


One of the most effective ways to influence memory is through conversational delivery. The best presentations emulate good conversations—whether someone is presenting to an audience of one or one thousand.

Markham identifies three factors than can be used to improve what people remember. The first is to follow the right sequence.

Information presented at the beginning and end of a talk is always best remembered, he says. This is why it’s critical to state the call to action up front. The audience should be encouraged to either apply the information or take action on it, and this should be clearly stated at the beginning of every business presentation.

It's important to set the tone for the sequence. According to Markham, “many speakers open their talks with an anecdote that is engaging, but only tangentially relevant to the topic of the presentation. The audience may easily recall this anecdote later, but it won’t help them to learn what they really needed to know.”

Opening with jokes or anecdotes that distract from the main topic is always risky. Do you want the audience to remember your jokes or how to apply or take action on your information?

Markham's second factor is to draw connections. To make his point, Markham uses a peanut analogy: “If you take peanuts out one at a time, you get three peanuts when you reach into the bowl three times. But, if you pour caramel over the peanuts, then when you pull one out, you get a whole cluster. After you draw from the bowl three times, you may have gotten almost all of the peanuts out.”

He states that memory works the same way and “making connections among the key points in your talk helps pour caramel over the peanuts in memory and increases the amount that people remember from what you present.”

The third factor is to make the audience work. Markham states that presentations must “provide opportunities for audiences to think for themselves.” The more the audience thinks about the ideas in the presentation, the greater the likelihood they will remember those ideas later. It is important to control when the audience thinks and what they think about. As anyone who as attended one of my workshops or presentations know, pausing is essential. Pausing before you speak allows you to formulate the idea in your mind before articulating it. Pausing after each idea allows the audience time to think about and absorb your information, one idea at a time.

Think of the best presentations you have attended. What made the presenter memorable? It is the feeling that the presenter is speaking to us individually, even if we are in a room with a thousand other people. It is the feeling that they are having the same conversation with a group of people that they would have one-on-one.

This is how presenters achieve their business and communication outcomes. This is how they change memories.

Slides don’t bore people. People using slides bores people.




There is one nightmare that nearly every presenter has both experienced and witnessed—one thing of which audience members are terrified when they walk into a presentation.

Boredom.

Not only do presenters often bore audiences, but in the worst circumstances, presenters bore themselves.

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An interesting article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “
The #1 Killer of Meetings (And What You Can Do About It),” Peter Bregman describes the journey he took to stop boredom and enhance engagement during his presentations. His conclusion is simple. If you don’t want anyone to be bored during your meetings or presentations, there is one simple thing you can do: turn off the projector.

Bregman’s transformation began after a two-day off-site meeting several years ago as he both watched and delivered slide-based presentations. In each presentation one of two things occurred: the audience tuned out or they poked holes in the presenter’s content.

“People tune out because nothing is required of them,” he explains in the article. “Or they poke holes because, if they don’t tune out, it’s the most interesting thing to do when someone is trying to prove there are no holes.”

After his experience, Bregman was determined to find a better way. “Over time,” he says, “I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don’t go near it.

“PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues,” he continues. “They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue.”

Bregman’s findings directly support a recent experience I had with a group of emergency physicians from the Toronto area. Prior to this one-day workshop with a group of very experienced presenters, each participant was asked to bring a presentation with them to the training session. One by one, they stood up, loaded their slides, and began their presentation. After a few minutes, the projector was turned off and they were asked to and continue their presentation, using their slides as notes.

The results were amazing. As soon as the projector was turned off, everyone’s full and undivided attention shifted to the presenter. The audience immediately became engaged.

The tone of each presentation shifted from a monologue to a conversation and the audience started asking questions. The presenter became focused on answering questions and building understanding, rather than going through the pedantic exercise of marching through one slide after another.

Presenters began to think more before speaking, bringing more precision to what they said. They paused to allow the audience to think and absorb their information. They connected with the audience more effectively because they were looking at them, instead of at a screen.

All of which are aspects of a good conversation and, ultimately, an effective presentation.

Some people think that slides are not the problem. They believe presenters that don’t use slides properly is the reason we experience Death by PowerPoint. But, slides don’t bore people, people using slides bores people.

Throughout the last thirty years, I have watched the evolution of slides. I have never seen the use of slides improve the skills of any presenter, but I have frequently seen the use of slides make good presenters less effective.

If you wish to reduce boredom at your presentations, the answer is simple: Turn the projector off. Carry on a conversation with your audience.

Can Public Engagement be Like a Bad Day at the Bank?





Over the years, I have had some interesting conversations with organizations, such as municipalities and school boards, that have delivered presentations to upset and disgruntled community members.

Prior to the presentation, they know the community is upset. Often, they know why.

To prepare, the team spends days (and sometimes weeks) putting their presentation together. They assemble the best, most logical ideas possible. And, when they deliver the presentation, they wonder why it fails to reduce the tension in the room.

I have often used an analogy to help them understand why the audience doesn’t “get it.”
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I ask them to imagine their bank has made a major mistake with their account. They try to call and email the bank, but are told they can only fix the problem at their local branch.

By the time they get to the bank, they are agitated. When they start explaining their perspective, the person on the other side of the counter interrupts and says: "Before you go any further, I’d like to tell you how we do things here at our bank."

Compare this to the presentation delivered to the community by a municipality, school board, or other organization. The team knows the people in the room are upset or downright angry. This anger may even have been the catalyst for the public meeting being organized in the first place.

Like the misguided employee at the bank, the team is talking rather than listening. When you make an audience (especially an angry one) wait any length of time before answering their questions and/or listening to their concerns, it doesn’t matter how perfect the presentation. Nobody is listening.

Let’s examine how the core values for the practice of public participation can guide a more successful approach. The first of those states that public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have the right to be involved in the decision-making process.

To bring this value to life, the team needs to open a receiver-driven dialogue at the public meeting. The needs of the audience outweigh the needs of the team. Because they are upset, the audience is like the disgruntled customer at the bank. They are not ready to receive information. They first want their questions answered and their concerns addressed.

Without a receiver-driven process, it is impossible to achieve the second core value: Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision. If the team’s desire is public participation, they must listen closely to what the community has to say, and directly apply this information to their final decision.

Within any aspect of public engagement, the organization should be willing to listen more than it speaks. Demonstrating good listening skills within a receiver-driven dialogue is the surest path to achieving the values of public participation.

The next time you face a potentially disgruntled audience or community group, keep a couple of concepts in mind. Listen before you talk. And when you talk, communicate. Don’t transmit.

It’s the best way to prevent public engagement from resembling a bad day at the bank.


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Eric Bergman is the author of The Engaging Public Participation Presentation. For more than thirty years, he has helped his clients shape their stories and tell them effectively.
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He started his communications career as a government public affairs officer in June, 1982, and wrote his first speech for a senior executive less than two months later.

He left government in 1985, and has since been self-employed as a communications consultant. As a significant part of his consultancy for nearly a decade, he wrote hundreds of speeches for executives in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

In the early 1990s, he shifted his focus to providing presentation skills training in workshops and seminars, and one-on-one coaching. Over the ensuing years, he has helped his clients develop strategic, compelling content for a host of presentation challenges, and provided his unique insight to also help them deliver that content effectively.