How a little brain science can make your presentation memorable

There’s no need for hypnosis or subliminal messaging here, but applying a few tenets of how the human mind works will help you convey your overriding themes—and make them stick.

What speakers should know about the brain

For speakers, fall is a busy season, so your speech and delivery had better be in tiptop shape.

Are ready for those jaded audiences and their famously shrunken attention spans?

People often ask how neuroscience can help extend those attention spans and engage those brains better.

So here are five insights into the speaker’s world and how to succeed by understanding the human mind:

1. Get your body language sequence right. It’s counterintuitive, but we gesture before we think, consciously; it’s how we find out what our unconscious minds want us to do. So, gesture first, and then speak. If you’re thinking about your gestures consciously, that will slow them down. You’ll instead gesture after the related idea or word, which looks fake. Audiences don’t pick it up consciously, but unconsciously it looks stilted and insincere, so they’ll rate you low on authenticity and engagement.

2. Invoke those emotions. Only memories that are attached to strong emotions (and are recalled often) will be remembered clearly. You must attach a strong emotion to your key point. Facts alone won’t cut it. Wrap a strong story around anything you want your audience to care about and retain.

3. Mix it up. Convey your overarching message in multiple ways. Recount a story, tell a joke, get them to ask questions or share with their neighbors. You might even toss a beachball at them, make them catch it and tell you what you just said—anything (within reason) to change up your approach and afford them several opportunities for engagement. (No, slides don’t count; there’s no compelling evidence that slides help retention.)

4. Help your audience prioritize. Pity the poor human brain, having to remember everything. Help it along by giving your audience hierarchies of importance, numbers and signals of how essential things are. Feel free to say, “If you remember only one thing today, make it this … ” The idea is to help all those overtaxed brains in the audience by saying, “There are some things you can forget.”

5. End strong by getting your audience to move. Audiences tend to remember the last thing they hear, so make sure your conclusion includes something important. Then, add the lesson in point No. 1, that movement reinforces a message. Having your audience members dance their way out of the auditorium while singing a ditty about your message might be cheesy, but if you can pull it off, but the audience will remember it.

Nick Morgan is a communication coach, speaker and author of “Can You Hear Me?” A version of this post first appeared on Public Words.

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