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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How to Make Your Words Memorable, Part 1

 by Lisa B. Marshall

“I hate to disappoint you. But Will Smith isn’t coming.”

That was the first line of Chris Gardner presentation. He’s the inspiration behind Will Smith’s character in the film, The Pursuit of Happyness. And despite the unfavorable odds of recall, I clearly remember this opening line.

What do you remember about the last speech you heard? If you’re like most people, probably not very much.

Chris Gardner spoke to a crowd of about 9,000. For an hour, he talked about his very personal journey from homelessness to Wall Street. I have never been homeless and neither have I worked on Wall Street. No connection there. But, do I remember very much about his speech? Yes, I do.

Why do I remember it? What was it, specifically, that made it memorable? In this two-part episode we’ll cover exactly what it is about a speech that makes it stick in your mind, and learn how you can make your presentations more memorable.

Tip #1: Remember That People Forget

First, remember that it’s natural to forget. We forget appointments, we forget people’s names, we forget the plots of books we read. Heck, I often forget what I’ve written in earlier The Public Speaker episodes until someone reminds me! One explanation for forgetting is trace decay. This theory suggests that learning etches a path in your brain, like you make in the woods when you go for a walk. If you continually walk along the same route, the path gets deeper. If you go a different way, the original path eventually becomes overgrown—until it disappears. So the less time you spend walking along the path, the murkier it gets. It’s the same with memory.

A famous study on forgetting textbook materials compared the percentage of material remembered after different intervals of time. The results were fascinating: After one day, 54% was remembered. After two months, only 14% was remembered. So you should expect that your audience will forget part of what you say. The key is to know that it’s important to use specific techniques so that some people will still remember it long after it ends. What are these techniques? Read on.

Tip #2: Use Repetition

Make your key ideas stick by using and repeating key ideas and key phrases throughout your presentation. You might even consider starting or ending (or both) with your key phrase. These phrases are sometimes referred to as money lines or signature phrases.

I recently listened to a funny, short Tedx talk by Joe Smith, called, How to Use a Paper Towel. He repeated the words “shake” and “fold” many times during the talk and in fact, he even got the audience to join in by asking them to repeat the words aloud. It seems a bit hokey when you watch the presentation but it is because of the silly repetition that we are then able to remember the main points of this talk. I can personally attest it worked for me! Every time I’ve been in a public restroom since watching his talk, I’ve followed Joe’s shake and fold advice!

On a more serious note, you’re likely familiar with the repetition of key phrases from political speeches. In fact, our current president, Barak Obama, used this technique when he was still a senator:

Yes we can to justice and equality, Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can.

Or perhaps you were first exposed to this technique when you heard the well-known 1963 speech from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now is the time to life our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Next week we’ll pick up from here in part two with more tips on making your presentations more memorable.

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