How Much of Your Presentation Will They Remember?


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The bad news for anyone delivering a presentation is that, despite all your hard work and careful choice of content to include in your presentation, most of it will go in one ear and out the other.

Researchers once ran a test to measure how much of a presenter’s message sticks in the minds of their audience. They found that immediately after a 10-minute presentation, listeners only remembered 50% of what was said. By the next day that had dropped to 25%, and a week later it was 10%.

Why is that important? In a typical strategic sales presentation, your audience members will not make a decision right after you’ve spoken. It might be a week or even longer after your presentation. By that time, they may no longer remember specific details but various audience members may each have their own “headline” in their mind that they retained from the presentation will retain an impression of your message. Or, they may have forgotten the impression but may retain an interesting story or intriguing statistic you gave them.

Since very little of your message will stick, you must be absolutely clear in your mind which 10% you want them to remember, and then design your presentation to make sure that happens. The first step is to choose a clear and compelling theme, as described in last week’s article. In effect, you first write the headline and then craft your content to reinforce, repeat and dramatize it.

If you want to be sure it’s saved in their memory, here are five tools under the acronym SAVER:[1]

STORIES: Stories stick. Humans have passed on learning for millennia, and our brains are exquisitely attuned to hearing them, getting drawn in to their reality, and remembering them. But make you’re your stories have a purpose beyond mere entertainment: because they’re so memorable, it’s important that any story you tell supports your theme or one of your main points.

ANALOGIES: Familiar things are more easily remembered, and analogies make things familiar. If you’re presenting an idea that is a big change from the status quo, analogies can make it seem safer by its familiarity. If it’s a sales presentation, some of the best analogies are drawn from the way your customer does business. If you can show them how your solution fits with something they already do, you get the double benefit of familiarity and credibility.

VISUALS: Forget the myth about auditory, visual and kinesthetic. We’re all visual learners; pictures stay in our minds far more commonly than abstract concepts and words. John Medina tells us in his book Brain Rules that retention goes from 10% to 65% when pictures are used. While I would take that statistic with a grain of salt, there is no doubt that the right pictures can make a memorable impression. As with stories, this makes it important to make sure your pictures support your points, rather than just being decorative.

EXAMPLES: Examples make abstract things real. You see it every night on the evening news: if they run a story about the unemployment rate, they will profile a family struggling to make ends meet. Chip and Dan Heath call it the Mother Teresa effect, because she said, “If I see one, I will act.”

REPETITION: Churchill said, “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.” This is excellent advice, but pay attention to the subtlety: Churchill repeated it slightly differently each time, so that it doesn’t sound repetitious.

When you craft your presentation, first make sure you get your facts straight, but then go back and use SAVER as a checklist to make sure they pack maximum impact.

[1] Actually, acronyms also work well, but I didn’t include them because I couldn’t think of an acronym for the extra “A”.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Malcolm
Jack founded Falcon Performance Group in 1996 specifically to combine his complex-sale expertise and his extensive financial background to design and implement complete sales process improvement initiatives at top national and international corporations.


  1. One presentation challenge I’ve seen is that marketers and salespeople speak about results, but the numbers are abstract–one of the issues that Heath brothers address in their book, Made to Stick.

    I think they cited Stalin’s dark quote that “one death is a tragedy, but one million is a statistic.” Sad, but true, I think. People have a hard time extending large numbers into a concrete vision.

    One company that did a particularly good job recently overcoming that problem was The New York Times, in an online piece about world records in sprinting based on the 2012 Summer Olympics. If you click on the link, there is a very creative visualization that demonstrates just how far human achievement has gone.

    Not every company needs to be this elaborate, but I think the point is clear.


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