How do we make presentations more memorable?

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Consider this: when executives deliver their speech using a traditional presentation format, employees typically recall only 20% of what they hear.

Does this mean that much of the time, energy and effort involved in preparing and delivering a presentation is misplaced? Absolutely not. There are also emotive and cultural benefits that are unique to face-to-face events. However, there are also techniques presenters can use to dramatically increase the amount of information audiences retain.

The traditional keynote presentation format, where an executive delivers a speech with a PowerPoint deck, is passive learning. In essence, the audience is asked to do nothing more than sit back and listen.

The challenge with passive learning is that it doesn’t take advantage of the way our brains are wired. For example, adult attention spans begin to wander after about 10 minutes after listening passively to a presentation. Many organizations intuitively understand this limitation, using work-arounds like short presentations, or integrating video into long speeches.

Progressively, over the course of a business session, attention spans continue to diminish, down to four minutes or less when faced with a series of passive learning presentations.

So what is the antidote? How can companies deliver the messages they need employees to hear – and have that information retained?

The trick is integrating active learning principles into presentations, encouraging audiences to discover, apply and process information – allowing them not only to hear a message, but to digest and take ownership of it. The effective use of active learning strategies is shown to elevate content retention between 70 and 90 percent. These strategies can include:

Interacting with your audience. Ask them questions that make them think, and encourage their responses. For example, “Last year at this meeting, what promises did we make?” “How did we do?” Or, “What do you think is the biggest challenge/opportunity in front of us today?” This engages audiences, getting them invested in your content, helping them come to conclusions on their own about the direction your message is taking.

Polling your people. Devices like responders and mobile apps give you the opportunity to instantly take the pulse of the audience – whether it’s taking their opinion, or testing their retention of knowledge. Using technology appropriately can keep audiences involved and on their toes throughout a presentation.

Inviting their questions. Instead of scheduling Q&A as an agenda item, make Q&A part of each presentation. This creates a more immediate connection between the executive, the audience and the subject matter of the presentation. It also creates more urgency around paying attention as employees will have the opportunity to immediately to ask their questions when they’re still top-of-mind.

Including moments for silent reflection or journaling. This is a particularly effective technique. Ask your audience to take a minute to think then write down how your message impacts their role. For example, “What barriers do you see in your role for fulfilling this plan?” followed by “Write down three things you can do immediately to start eliminating those barriers.” This enables your audience to become their own objection handlers and solution providers.

Workshopping content rather than presenting it. Integrate brainstorming within a presentation. Ask your audience to work in cross-functional groups to brainstorm their observation, innovations and solutions, reporting in with their conclusions. This gets employee and stakeholder audiences hands on – fully involved in looking at your organization from new angles, investing them in the company’s success and allowing them to draw individual conclusions that align with your messaging.

Interested in additional active learning strategies to increase the impact of your presentations? Check out these suggestions from educators:

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