Sunday 29th September, 2013

How to be Memorable

New clients often ask me how they can make both themselves and their presentations more memorable.

To answer this in a way that will be most helpful to you, we need to start by understanding how our memories work.

Or – more realistically – how our memories don’t work.

Information overload

Our senses are bombarded by thousands of bits of information every second of the day. In fact, we take in so much information it’s simply impossible for us to deal with it all. Ever found it difficult to follow a conversation when two people are talking at once? Then you know exactly what I mean.

Our amazing brains are forced to be selective about what they retain and do their best to work out what the various bits of information mean so they can be mentally labelled and filed for quick retrieval when we need them.

Who’s not listening?

While we might hope that our audience is hanging on our every word, I’m afraid to tell you that a large percentage of what we say goes unheard.

Distractions (someone entering the room, kicking over a coffee cup, coughing) and our own inner dialogue take our focus away from a speaker. For some people (and I’m one of them) an idea will trigger another thought and off we drift into a daydream. We may miss one, two or maybe even five minutes of what the speaker is saying before we become aware of the need to bring our attention back to the present.

As the speaker, you may very well feel that you’ve given an excellent presentation. However, try conducting an exit poll to find out how many of your key points the audience can recall. The results may disappoint you.

8 tips for making your presentations more memorable

1. Keep it simple
You won’t win any fans by overcomplicating your message. Keep it clear and concise.

2. Be repetitive
Choose just three key messages and repeat them throughout your presentation. Every time you do so you are giving your audience another opportunity to hear you. This doesn’t mean reciting a mantra (as the politicians tend to do). Find different ways to say the same thing, but don’t be tempted to be too ambitious. It’s better that the audience remembers three key points than forgets ten key points.

3. Use your imagination
Be creative with language. When we say something in a surprising way it stops people in their (thinking) tracks. We refer to this as ‘engagement’. Use words that are unexpected and colourful. And talking of colourful…

4. Paint pictures in the mind
Encourage your audience to ‘imagine’ what you’re saying. In fact, say that: ‘Imagine xyz‘. Once they have created an image in their mind they are more likely to remember it and keep turning their thoughts back to it.

5. Keep changing ‘colour’
If you speak in monotone the listener has to work very hard to understand your point, and the listener has no interest in working hard.

Practise varying your tone when you speak. Vary your speed and pitch. Try pausing more.

These ‘colour changes’ are all part of ‘how’ we speak and are just as important as the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

6. Expect them to forget
If someone remembers something I’ve said after one hearing, I’m delighted. But it’s rarely the case. Be an interesting and inspiring speaker and people will keep coming back to hear you… thus increasing the chances they will remember your key messages.

7. Be sympathetic
People don’t mean to not hear us.

Don’t become irritated with an audience who misses your points. Instead, focus on being a more empathetic communicator.

I often meet people who have heard me speak previously. They enthuse, ‘You’re a wonderful speaker’, so I ask, ‘What did I speak about?’ More often than not they cannot remember!

What a blow to my ego!

However, I understand that it can take a while for key points to be remembered, so I do two things:

1. I resolve to be a better communicator in the future;

2. I take the opportunity to remind the person of my key points while they’re standing before me!

8. Keep it up
Whenever you can (data protection laws permitting) follow up with your audience (e.g. via email) to remind them of your key messages.

Remember, being an effective public speaker isn’t about the quality of the applause! It’s really about how deeply you have connected with your audience and how confident they feel in applying what you have told them.


Read this fascinating BBC article by Melissa Hogenboom about ‘fake recollections‘. Its content may amaze you. Our memories are highly suggestible. It takes a lot less effort that we think to convince ourselves that something that never happened did happen. In the context of public speaking think how great the scope for ‘mis-remembering’ is!

Our brains do their best but they are not infallible. It’s our job (and our duty!) as public speakers to be mindful of the physiology and neurology of memory. To assume everything we say will automatically be both understood and remembered is unfair and unrealistic. But with a bit of effort we can help our audiences to remember more of what we told them, and that’s a great gift indeed.

Categories: How to, Memory, Words


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  2. Julie Howell says:

    Thank you, Susan! All the standard things, like positive body language and enthusiasm, also apply but the way in which the audience ‘hears’ and ‘recalls’ is seldom discussed. Let us know if you find any of these tip useful in practice!

  3. TJ Walker says:

    Painting pictures for the mind is most important. Stories are the best way to do this.

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