Presentation Advice — Telling ‘Em Three Times Doesn’t Work

If you’ve read a presentation self-help book or two, you’ve probably seen the presentation advice to tell the audience your message three times. It’s repeated so frequently from articles to professional speakers passing along their best presentation advice to “tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” Both public speakers and presentation coaches alike swear by this advice; they claim it makes a presentation successful and your message memorable.

I’ve given, and I’ve listened to, my fair share of presentations, and over and over again presenters are telling me three times what I need to take away from this presentation. As a listener, this is the most frustrating situation! For one, I don’t need a presentation preface in which you are going to tell me what you are going to tell me. If that even makes any sense, I just need you to get to the point. Secondly, I certainly don’t need you to tell me what I should be taking away from this presentation; it is my decision as to what is important to me enough to write down and remember later.

web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingAs a speaker, it is important that you incorporate useful pieces of advice for the audience to take away. That is important, but a speaker, no matter how hard they try, cannot dictate what that memorable advice is in the end. Each person is different and, therefore, each person will take away a different combination of things.

Here is the kicker, the repetition of saying your message three times is actually a hindrance to remembering things. A 2014 study from the University of California found that repetition may interfere with our ability to remember specific details. The study presented images to participants either one time or three times, then testing their ability to recall the images. Although the participants that saw the images three times recalled the images easier, they mixed up other parts shown to them. The subjects that saw the image only once had better recall of specific details. In conclusion, the study found that viewing the images multiple times blurred the details.

The reason that speakers and coaches give this presentation advice to repeat themselves at least three times is to help the message stick in the minds of the listeners. This method is an “old school” mentality that does not work in today’s fast pace world.

Here are four ways to increase your audience’s ability to remember your message that does not include repetition.

  1. Keep Them Interested In order to capture the attention of distracted audience members, you must start with a great introduction that leads into the body of the content. The introduction could include a “wow” factor like a striking fact or even a related (non-filthy) joke. This strategy creates the hook which captures the audience’s attention gently without outright demand or giving away the ending.
  2. Make It Sticky – The reason a presenter delivers a speech is to share their message and change the listeners’ lives, thoughts, or behaviors. According to Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers, there are six components of sticky messages including simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
  3. Use Visuals The human memory is predominantly visual according to Psychology Today. We recall messages more easily when associated with pictures. It is the perfect opportunity to find great (single) pictures to blow up on your slides. As you continue the presentation, the audience will pair the message with the picture. They will remember the picture first and then the message they paired with it will follow. Even if you will need to explain the picture on the screen, it’s the absolute best way to get the audience to remember.
  4. Consider the Mnemonic Technique Mnemonic is a learning technique that aids information retention by using imagery and other tools to encode information for retrieval. To use the mnemonic technique, a speaker must associate the information with something more meaningful. Use this method for lists, acronyms, and other data. You often hear this technique of utilizing stories of everyday experiences most people encounter.

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How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being a good presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.