Episode 69: September 26, 2011
by Lisa B. Marshall
What do you remember about the last speech you heard? If you’re like most people, probably not much. In this article we’ll cover how to make your speeches more memorable.
How to Make a Speech Memorable
Just about two weeks ago I attended the 2009 Grand Slam in Philadelphia. This is a contest where participants are invited to tell a five-minute true story. As soon as I heard Ky Mettler's story, I turned to my husband and said, "Oh, she's the winner, for sure."
At the time, I could have listed dozens of things she did right. Dozens of things that made her story stand-out. But what about today, almost two weeks later; what do I remember about her speech? Can I still list dozens of things that she did right? (That is without reviewing her video on YouTube).
She was good, but was she memorable?
Turns out, I can remember a few things. So, I thought it would be useful to review what I remember from her speech as a way of explaining how to make a speech memorable.
Think back to the most recent presentation you attended; think back to ANY presentation you have attended. What do you remember? Really, think about it; what do you remember? Not much, right? It’s likely that you only remember one or two (or at most three) things the speaker talked about (and that’s if it was a good speaker)!
Forgetting Is Normal
Psychologists talk about fading theory. They say the trace or mark that a memory etches into your brain is like a path you make in the woods when you continually walk along the same route. If you don’t take that same path, it eventually becomes overgrown--until it disappears.
A famous study on forgetting textbook materials compared the percentage of material remembered after different intervals of time. The results were interesting:
After 1 day 54% was remembered.
After 7 days 35% was remembered.
After 14 days 21% was remembered.
After 21 days 18% was remembered.
After 28 days 19% was remembered.
After 63 days, about two months, only 17% was remembered.
Remembering what you hear in lectures is even more difficult to recall because you are not able to slow down, pause, reflect, or to reread unless you take excellent notes! In a study on recall after listening to a seminar, students forgot more than 90% of the points from the lecture after 14 days!
Use Props to Make a Speech Memorable
So what do I remember from Ky’s presentation?
The strongest and most vivid memory I have is of her very feminine bright, bright, yellow--highlighter yellow--boots. And how they were in such contrast to her very masculine, thick black leather metal-studded belt. For me, her clothes foreshadowed and supported her theme, which was about gender identification and attractiveness. I wondered then (and I still wonder now) if she intentionally chose the boots and belt as supporting props.
Regardless, from a public speaking perspective, strong visual elements or props, like her boots and belt, make a speech more memorable. One of my favorite TED talks is from brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, who used a brain-- a real brain with the spinal cord still attached-- as a prop in her talk. When she brings the brain out on stage, you can hear the audience reacting. That brain was not only memorable; for me it was unforgettable. (By the way, if you haven’t seen this talk, you should.)
Use Analogies to Make a Speech Memorable
So what else do I remember about Ky’s talk? I remember that she compared a dirty, scruffy, hitchhiker to a guru of enlightenment. Again, the strong contrasting images made the analogy interesting and memorable.
Making a strong connection between two otherwise dissimilar ideas can help you understand and remember.
Making a strong connection between two otherwise dissimilar ideas can help you understand and remember. Analogies are exactly that--comparisons between two things. Typically, analogies are used to explain how something known is similar to something that is not familiar. Analogies are particularly useful when you are trying to explain ideas quickly. The biggest benefit is that they make it easy to remember complex ideas. So, analogies are powerful because they’re meaningful and memorable.
End with a Key Sentence to Make a Speech Memorable
I also remember that Ky included quite a bit of dialog in her speech. As I’ve mentioned before, all good stories require dialog. (They also need characters, setting, action, and details, but I’ve covered that in a previous article). In Ky’s story, she used dialog between her and the hitchhiker, and she also included internal dialog. Internal dialog helps us to understand the speaker’s point of view, which also makes the story more memorable.
However, more importantly, Ky used dialog as her final “key” sentence. All good stories end with a short sentence that summarizes the main idea of the story. Final key sentences are important because studies show that we tend to remember the last words spoken.
In Ky’s story, she used something the hitchhiker said to her as her final key sentence. I very clearly remember the dialog; it was "Dude, you should have been a chick." I’m convinced that the uniqueness of the dialog combined with it being the final key sentence is the reason I remember it almost two weeks later.
Use Stories to Make a Speech Memorable
Finally, the story format itself made her words powerful and memorable. That’s why we as a society have used stories through history to communicate beliefs, values, and rules. Stories are how we learn from other people’s experiences. Stories are how we naturally communicate.
However, stories are even more memorable when we use vivid and unique props. They are even more memorable when we use intriguing, thought-provoking analogies and when we use a strong concluding key sentence. Congratulations, Ky, your story was memorable!
This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication; your success is my business.