Is your presentation impossible to ignore? I’ve sat through many presentations in my lifetime, and I expect to sit through quite a few more before I die. It’s astonishing how many technical presentations are treated as information dumps, with no intention to persuade or get audiences to improve their ways. People get bored, and I frequently see smartphones whipped out in conference rooms. I have been guilty of giving such presentations before. But I think I found some valuable guidance in the book Impossible to Ignore on how to craft presentations that bring changes, and I’m sharing an excerpt below.
Start off by seeing her techniques in practice: 5 Reasons We Forget Presentations, then come back here to read an excerpt from the book. It’s from an early chapter and lays the groundwork for the techniques to follow.
A Modern Approach to Memory: The Prospective Model
What are the three most important memory problems you experienced last week? This is a question scientists often ask people when they investigate memory issues more deeply. A series of research studies have found that 60 to 80% of our memory problems are related to forgetting to execute on a future intention. Yesterday you may have intended to give someone a call, send a specific e-mail, or stop by the store to buy milk, and only remembered these today. Some unfulfilled intentions linger for a longer time. How many books have you promised yourself you will reward on your next vacation… for the past five years? We have good intentions but forget to execute on them, or if we remember them, the reward is not compelling enough to get us to act. Our audiences are no different. They listen to us, and they may agree that what we say is helpful. When they leave, they might still remember something from what we had said but don’t do anything about it. We can address that by changing our approach to how we view memory.
Instead of viewing memory as merely recollecting things from the past, let’s look at memory from the lens of the future. This shift is useful for three reasons. First, our audiences’ brains are on fast-forward anyway; as they listen to us now, they are by default anticipating the future. The brain has evolved to be a predictive engine because survival is more likely when one can accurately predict what happens next. We can see evidence of our inclination to anticipate the future in many activities: completing other people’s sentences, salivating before taking the first bite, or laughing just before someone is about to tickle us.
Second, we constantly look to the future to extract value for our present actions. Yale psychologists George Newman and T. Andrew Poehlman have studied the human brain’s tendency to look to the future and identify value for the present. (truncated for brevity)
The third reason it is useful to approach memory with the future in mind comes from communicators sharing content with audiences now, hoping they remember and act on it later. Imagine that we share content at Point A, and we hope people remember and act on it sometime in the future, at Point B. This “future” can be as close as two minutes from now, two days, two weeks, or longer. So, it is pragmatic to ask, what is happening in people’s lives, and what do they intend to do at Point B? If we know this already at Point A, we can prepare for Point B so we can become part of people’s memories and intentions.
Getting people to act on what they remember always starts with an intention – an intention they already have or one you wish to place in their minds. Everyone intends to do something next. Our intentions range from trivial to serious and from automatic to goal oriented. We intend to eat, send e-mails, check Facebook, create documents, revamp a software platform, attend meetings.
The image above is a pretty good summary of this section. We must always be aware of our audience’s intentions. We are sharing the knowledge now but they only need it in the future. How will you make it easy for them to recall your message at Point B? Do check out Impossible to Ignore by Dr. Carmen Simon and make your next public speaking engagement unforgettable!