Memory and Presentations

Monday, December 13th, 2010 0 comments

Concerts and Colonoscopiesconcerts-and-colonoscopies

Fear of presenting is one of the biggest challenges presenters can face, and I’m sure you’ve heard colleagues say, many times, “I’ll be glad when it’s over,” or “That was awful, I hated doing that.” And, when it comes to the next presentation, how often has it then be said to those individuals, “I know you are not going to like doing this, but I really need you to give the presentation”? If is going to be bad for the presenter, it’s highly likely that it’s going to be bad for the audience too. We all want to end a presentation, and to positively influence the audience to agree with your pitch, and be motivated to take action. Decisions are rarely made at the point of delivery. They are made some time later; a day, a week, a month, or longer. And that decision is made, not on what you said in your presentation, but upon what they remember of your presentation. How to influence what they remember is the trick.

The Riddle of Experience vs Memory is given by the Nobel Laureate behavioural psychologist Daniel Kahneman, as he shares his research on how memory is influenced.

Whilst the stories he tells on the concert and colonoscopies are really insightful, it is his message on influencing memories by experience, and his explanation of how memories are stories, which really have implications on presenting. This message demonstrates why it is so influential to present your message using stories and associations. These are just two of the passive mnemonic memory techniques that I help presenters to use. They also help to nullify presenters’ fears, and to enable them to deliver compelling presentations that are positively remembered. But, most important of all, they influence the decision making process.

In presentations, there are 2 golden opportunities to maximize this outcome. One of those is at the end of the presentation; the close. Daniel Kahneman mentions how the end of the concert left the lasting and prominent negative memory for his first case study. And this is why I’m so rigorous in coaching the close before coaching the main part of a presentation. He also mentions cognitive traps. Closing can be one of those traps. Just think of the times when you’ve heard somebody close a presentation with, “I hope you enjoyed the presentation?” Or, “Any questions?” And then they reinforce the negative experience by putting up a slide with a negative icon – a question mark! Was the impact of such questions one of motivation and influence upon the audience to take action? It would be once in a blue moon, if at all.

At the close, it’s not the question you ask that will positively influence what they remember and motivate action, it’s how you ask it. And to do that, the most important advice I can give to you is to use emotion. Genuine and believable emotion. Influencing how they will remember is driven by their experience of your delivery of the presentation. This is what can motivate them to choose you, and the close will be the last chance you’ll get to do so.

One of the executives who I coached last week went from being fearful before the rehearsals to joyful at the end. She used this closing technique, and I can clearly remember the look of delight and surprise when she said, “You know, I really enjoyed that!” It was good for her, and was certainly good for her audience.

I doubt that could be said though, at the end of a colonoscopy…

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