One of my favorite questions, which I shamelessly stole from Joe Ehrmann in my work with youth sports is the question, “What’s your definition of success?” As that applies to speaking or communicating, I’ve adopted this definition – “that the audience can repeat what you said.” I can’t control you and get you to buy. I can’t get my own children to obey, but if I can get you to repeat, then I’ve been successful as a communicator.
When it comes to remembering, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 1800s and early 1900s did some of the early studies about how we remember things. His science was bad. In fact, it wouldn’t pass peer review today for anything. He had an N of one, he only studied one subject, himself. He would memorize long strings of nonsense syllables, and try to see how many he could remember over time.
His results were published in a work that we now know as the forgetting curve. I do agree with his conclusions. Simply put, over time we forget as humans. Great capacity to learn, but over time we forget. This shouldn’t discourage us as communicators. In fact, it should challenge us. How can we get our audience to remember and repeat what we have to say?
It probably comes to no surprise to longtime viewers that I have three ideas about how to get your audience to remember what you have to say. Notice, as soon as I said that your brain is already working. When I said, “I have three ideas,” your brain created space to remember three things. You’re listening now for three things. One of the things I can do to help you remember is to give you a structure. By doing so your brain creates places to put the information that I’m about to share.
That structure of course, needs to be created before I speak. Before I speak, I create structure. While I speak during my talk. I’m going to repeat what I said. Repeat that structure. I just talked about what we do before, create structure. Now we move on to what you do during, you repeat. That which gets repeated gets remembered. It was true when your mother had little sayings or your high school coach had something of wisdom to share with you. It was repeated over and over again and you still remember it.
Segues are the movement from these major points is a perfect place to revisit what you said. We talked about what to do before, create structure. We talked about what to do during, repeat. But afterwards we’ve got to still be in the mind of our listener. That means we need to create a hook. For instance, I’m going to say something like the next time you get ready to write an email, and now I’ve created a hook. I put in your mind that you’re going to do something differently. The next time you set up to write an email, the next time you prepare for comments at your company meeting, the next time you line up to present a sales pitch, those are hooks for the future.
One of the ways to help us help our audience remember content is to live as we create that content in the past, the present and the future. Before we get started, during our talk, and after we’re done. Create structure, repeat the structure, put a hook in the mind of your listener for later. Oh sure. We’re prone to forget, but a great communicator finds ways to help their audience remember. That’s the definition of a successful communicator.
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As a high-stakes communications expert, Alan motivates individuals and teams to build their confidence and professionalism and trains them to seamlessly handle the unexpected in ANY communications setting.
Alan is an International Keynote Speaker, Coach, Trainer, and Author who has delivered keynotes and training workshops to thousands on the impact of powerful, persuasive communication. Alan is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer of MillsWyck Communications. He is the author of Presentation Sin: The Practical Guide to Stop Offending (and Start Impressing) Your Audience and the co-author of Silver Goldfish: Loud & Clear: The 10 Keys to Delivering Memorable Business Presentations.
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