Four Questions that Will Make Your Message More Memorable

A little pre-game introspection makes all the difference.

A well-told story sticks in ways that raw data doesn’t because your brain, in many ways, lives the story. Scientists call it “neural coupling,” and it’s what you want your audience to experience.

When a storyteller catches a crowd’s imagination, everyone’s brain activity begins to sync up. The listeners are, for all intents and purposes, living the anecdote along with the storyteller, and will remember it using the same neural pathways they would use to record an actual experience.

If can substitute “reads” with “watches our PowerPoint presentations” you’re doing it right.

If can substitute “reads” with “watches our PowerPoint presentations” you’re doing it right.

The more closely the listener’s brain mirrored that of the storyteller in experiments, the more highly they rated the story’s appeal, effectiveness and memorability.

So how do you tell a story? Begin by asking yourself these four questions.

What Do I Have In Common With My Audience?

Great science fiction draws you in with a universally human experience, and only then blasts you into outer space. Before you knew much about the Rebel Alliance or Force, Luke Skywalker was just a typical teen who would rather “waste time with his friends” than do chores.

We’ve all been there.

And thanks to that salt-of-the-Earth intro, billions of people, of every nationality, race, and religion, have “lived” through a galactic rebellion against the evil empire. Most will never forget it.

What about your audience? They may have dramatically different backgrounds, or simply be unable to relate to the story you want to tell. Which is probably why you want to tell it! But I bet most of them have fallen in love. And used Google Search.

Relatable doesn’t necessarily mean realistic. You wouldn’t be fighting back tears right now if this guy had been searching for porn.

What part of your presentation everyone in your audience relate to? Begin there.

So What?

This is the single most important question we ask prospective clients. What is the point of your presentation or project?

If the answer is, “Fill two hours at a meeting I sort of forgot about until last week,” you’re probably* on the wrong track.

We Like Money Dax Shepard meme*Of course, Chainsaw Communications can still help you reach your audience effectively, using dynamically designed PowerPoint presentations and one-on-one speech coaching to create a memorable message that sticks! Call us.

Identify a clear goal. Do it right now, it shouldn’t take more than a minute. Could you fit it into a fortune cookie? Good.

This is how you fight the “curse of knowledge,” or tendency to include everything you know about the subject in your talk. Which would be fine, except your audience has an eight-second attention span.

Look over your presentation with the idea that you won’t waste a single one of those precious seconds on material that doesn’t directly support your goal. Go over your charts, images, graphs, and especially, words, words, words.

If you can cut the amount of material you plan to dump on your audience in half, fantastic. If you can cut that in half, better.

Is There A Tagline?

The most memorable stories can be revived for years, simply by repeating a single, perfect phrase: “A day that will live in infamy.” “A diamond is forever.” “Pour some sugar on me.”

This sentence can summarize your story, but the goal is to catalyze its memory. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is encapsulated in the phrase, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” But if you want readers to recall Orwell’s 1984, you only need four words: “Big Brother is watching.”

What you’re looking for could be premeditatively poetic: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Or, off-the-cuff iconic: “Houston, we have a problem.” Either sentence brings to mind a long, complicated story of humanity’s ascent into outer space.

And, as those examples suggest, the phrase you choose can change the tone, focus, or even content of the desired memory.

Are you familiar with the 1989 reunification of Germany? The hero of that famous tale is, of course, Hungarian Prime Minister Mátyás Szűrös, who bravely offered exit visas to East Germans, inspiring riots that brought down the Berlin Wall.

But, if you’re from the United States and of a certain age, you might recall it a bit differently. Let me refresh your memory: “Mikhail Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Ronald Reagan

To be fair, “Erich Honecker, engedje el a kilépő vízum!” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

If you compare both versions of this well-known story, you’ll understand the power of the perfect sentence. Find yours and use it.

How Does It End?

All good things must come to end, but lousy presentations never do. They just sort of trail off into the question-and-answer period, while the audience checks Facebook on their phones.

A grand finale is important. How will you end your story?

Rosebud screenshot

Endings matter

Ideally, you should incorporate your perfect phrase into any ending.  Other than that, you have almost infinite options.

  • The Executive Summary

It’s simple and it works. Let the audience know, perhaps using an amusing or surprising slide, that you’re about to summarize your entire presentation. Then do it. You’ve apparently got around eight seconds until they start checking their phones again, so make it quick.

  • The Cliffhanger

If you want your audience to keep trying to solve a problem you just presented, end with a cliffhanger that causes the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. If a task or activity “feels” incomplete, the brain will continue working on the task until it does. A challenge or “big question” will also work. This is great if you plan to pick up the narrative after a lunch break, not so much if they’ll need to shift gears in the next session.

  • The Trial Lawyer

Whether you’re discussing airline perks or accounting tips, a gifted speaker can make an impassioned argument supporting the centerpiece of their presentation. If you’re that type of speaker, go for it.

  • The Quote

Some people consider this a copout, but it works. If you can’t come up with a great end to your presentation, find someone smarter who already has.


Maya Angelou quote

We found this one on Goodreads in about two minutes. Perfect, right? Because no matter how good your presentation, this will be true for at least some members of your audience. So, go for “appreciated.” Thank your audience for their time and attention, and your staff for their help, and call it a day.
2016-12-05T16:14:37-05:00 By |Categories: Communication, Presentations, Storytelling|Tags: , , , |