What will your audience remember?

So what’s the point of presenting anything? To make it more likely that they’ll remember a relevant, tiny fraction of the message we shared, to their benefit. By using all of our skills to make it impossible to them to forget.

Copyright credit to Rick Flohr

A slightly weird post from Olivia Mitchell this week.  In which she attends a presentation summit and surveys the audience afterwards as to what they remembered of the first few keynote speakers.  It’s weird only because she frames the discussion as a ‘sobering’ negative.

Audiences remember sweet Fanny Adams. Really?  No way?  I thought people remembered every inch of every dry, dull, long-winded, pointless (literally) presentation they ever heard.  In this case Ms Mitchell seems genuinely puzzled.

Guess what?  Her analysis tells her that the folks in the conference chairs remembered the cock-ups, the attractive blonde and what she was wearing, and Garr Reynold’s metaphor, something about ‘Be like Bamboo’ –  And not much else. For the full, and if I’m honest, interesting,  piece with a couple of  Olivia’s own useful conclusions. – What an audience remembers.

My thoughts-

Garr Reynolds graces the summit

Copyright credit to Rick Flohr

First I’m staggered that Garr Reynolds (author of ‘Presentation Zen’- great title, OK book) spoke to the adoring crowd about bamboo, via skype!!! I could have stayed in my room for that couldn’t I?

Second, I’m truly surprised that we see audience memory and retention issues as a ‘problem’.  We speakers and presenters really must get over ourselves. PEOPLE DON’T REMEMBER us, our messages or our subject unless we’re really good or really bad. Even then they’ll only remember a tiny fragment of our carefully crafted schtick.  And even more likely is that they’ll remember us for our shoes, accent, or just the general impression of whether they liked us or not.

An audience’s capacity to remember is based on a few variables-

  1. Their need for the information.  If their lives depend on remembering every word that’s said, they’ll listen, take notes and make sure that they do.
  2. The clarity of the message- so maybe Garr’s message really was that simple and that good that all of the key points came back to that central and repeated metaphor.
  3. The skill of the speaker in delivering that message in ways that are impossible to forget rather than difficult to remember.
Most psychological studies suggest that human’s are terrible at remembering detail.  A credible study of high achieving students in medical schools found that in lectures, 98% of detail from a 60 minute lecture, is lost to recall within 24 hours.  So if that’s a fact, and |I’m pretty sure that it is; lets’ live with it and work on getting better at what we do.  Because for relevant, interesting and well made points, that link to existing knowledge, people are more like elephants. They’ll forget the detail but remember the message for ever.  For the detail of these studies see here.
So what’s the point of presenting anything?  To make it more likely that they’ll remember a relevant, tiny fraction of the message we shared, to their benefit.  By using all of our skills to make it impossible to them to forget.  and it seems that of all the speakers, Garr did best, inspite of the Skype thing.



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