3 Lessons for Effective Presentations

imprrh@gmail.com —  April 24, 2013

(for the full article get the complete article here from slideshare: http://fr.slideshare.net/HubSpot/what-would-steve-do-10-lessons-from-the-worlds-most-captivating-presenters)


There’s a reason why expressions like, “Seeing is believing” and, “A picture is worth 1000 words” are so universally recognized — and that reason is based in science.

It’s called the Picture Superiority Effect, and it refers to a large body of research, which shows that humans more easily learn and recall information that is presented as pictures than when the same information is presented in words.

In one experiment, for instance, subjects who were presented with information orally could remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. Those who were presented with information in picture format were able to recall 65% of the content.

Not only do we remember visual input better, but we also process visual information 60,000x faster in the brain than we do text.

Sure, it takes more time to find and select awesome images to replace text, but master communicators know that it’s worth the extra effort to achieve maximum impact and maximum audience retention.


Images are wicked powerful. Use them liberally.

2. Use emotions

Virtually every presentation relies on some form of data to illustrate or emphasize the core point. Master communicators like Steve Jobs leverage data skillfully — but they also know that data alone ain’t enough.

Think of it this way: If data were sufficient to truly change the way people think or behave, nobody would smoke.

Clearly, humans are creatures guided by more than logic alone.

Science again comes to our aid in explaining how and why this is important. In his book, Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina has this to say about the role of emotion on the human brain:

“An emotionally charged event (usually called an ECS, short for emotionally competent stimulus) is the best-processed kind of external stimulus ever measured. Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.”

Chip and Dan Heath further elaborate on the impact that emotion can have on persuasive communication in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The authors describe an exercise that Chip does with his students at Stanford University. The students are tasked with giving a one-minute persuasive speech. Everyone must present on the same topic, with half the class arguing for one point of view and the other half arguing for the opposite point of view.

After everyone has given their one-minute speech, the students are invited to rate each other on the effectiveness of the presentations, and then instructed to write down key points made by each speaker.

Here’s the data they collected from this exercise:

  • On average, the students used 2.5 statistics during their one-minute speeches
  • 1/10 of the students used a personal story to make their point
  • 63% of the class remembered details from the speeches that used stories
  • Only 5% remember the statistics that were shared

The Heaths drew this conclusion from the data:

“The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten.”

Perhaps nobody more succinctly emphasizes the importance of making your audience feel than Pulitzer Prize-winning author Maya Angelou:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Make sure your presentation content goes beyond pure “facts.” Triggering audience emotion is a guaranteed way to increase retention and impact of your core message.

3. Use plain ENGLISH.

When Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPod, he could have said something like this:

“Today we’re introducing a new, portable music player that weighs a mere 6.5 ounces, is about the size of a sardine can, and boasts voluminous capacity, long battery life, and lightning-fast transfer speeds.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he said: “iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.”

Jobs could have described the MacBook Air as a “smaller, lighter MacBook Pro with a generously-sized 13.3-inch, 1280- by 800-pixel, glossy LED screen and a full-size keyboard.”

Instead, he walked on stage with an office-sized manila envelope, pulled the notebook out and simply said, “What is MacBook Air? In a sentence, it’s the world’s thinnest notebook.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jobs generally avoided complicated stats, technical data, buzzwords, and jargon in his presentations. Instead, he relied on simple, clear, direct language that was easy to understand, easy to remember, and better yet, was extremely “tweetable.” Jobs frequently used metaphors and analogies to bring meaning to numbers — for instance, when he described the iPod as “a thousand songs in your pocket” instead of “5GB of memory.”

A closer look at some of Jobs’ most famous keynotes reads like a presentation in “headlines” — powerful, memorable, specific statements that consistently add up to fewer than 140 characters.

Now take a look at one of your recent presentations. Is it buoyant with simple, specific, tweetable headlines? Does the script read like plain English that a 7-year-old could understand? Do you put data and stats in context so their meaning is clear and easy-to-digest? Have you ruthlessly pruned out all of the jargon, including overused, meaningless terms like “integrated,” “platform,” “leading-edge,” “synergy,” and so on?


If you want to improve your ability to persuade an audience, do your best Steve Jobs impression. Use simple language, free of jargon. Make sure your key messages are concrete and consistent. And don’t forget to use vivid metaphors or analogies to provide context and clarity around big numbers and complex ideas.


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