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The key to presentation impact: enthusiasm!

March 16, 2010

Okay, impact is when you get them to understand, remember and act on your message.  That middle step often seems really hard, just how do we get them to remember the message?

The whole topic of human memory is really interesting, worth reading up on if you’re even a little interested. Medina’s Brain Rules would be a decent place to start, but let’s set the discussion of the physiology aside for the moment and take a look at the results of some other research: the question of what an audience remembers after a presentation.

A number of studies have looked at this. In one (reported in a book called Knockout Presentations), 24 hours after a presentation participants were asked to write down whatever they could remember about a presentation.  The responses were summarized and over many trials,  a consistent pattern emerged for what people remembered (% of the total comments were about):

You (the presenter)                               60%
What they saw (other than you)       30%
What they heard (words)                     10%

What that says is that you, the presenter, are what they remember most.

So, just what is it they remember about you?  The analysis of the comments in these studies also shows that what they remember is:

How you looked (your body language especially),
how you sounded—tone of voice,
and in last place, they remember what you said.

The conclusion isn’t shocking, but it is important. In essence, this says they’re mainly reacting to and remembering your enthusiasm and energy, or the lack of it.

Maybe even more importantly, how much they remembered of the content correlated strongly with their comments on your enthusiasm.  In other words, if you want them to remember, you need to be enthusiastic, even passionate, about the message you’re delivering.Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772-1834

Enthusiastic, passionate presenters aren’t likely to be boring—and we already know “Brains don’t pay attention to boring,” so it fits.

Enthusiasm—and letting the audience see it—may not be all you need, but it is really, really important if you want to have an impact.

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