By Arel Moodie, founder of True Speaking Success which helps professionals craft a signature talk that attracts clients and impacts lives.
Think of a public speaker you heard present six months or more ago.
Can you remember what they said? Odds are you can’t remember too much of what they actually said (at best, you may remember if they were funny or boring).
The brutal reality is that we forget almost everything we hear in as little as one week!
According to research, we only remember 10% of what we hear after seven days. The research behind this is well-documented. In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the “forgetting curve,” which found that people can forget up to 90% of what they hear in just one week. Don’t let the date of Ebbinghuas’ discovery cause you to think his work is outdated and doesn’t still apply; in 2015, his data was replicated and proven again almost to a T.
After delivering thousands of speaking engagements myself and coaching hundreds of speakers, I’ve discovered a very consistent pattern. Oddly, when speakers go to put together a presentation, they act as if the attendees will have perfect memory and remember everything said during the presentation.
I call this “the more-is-more fallacy.” The more-is-more fallacy is the idea that the more content you give during a presentation, the more valuable it is for your audience. It’s a fallacy because the more content you provide, the less your audience will actually remember. Therefore the less valuable your speech becomes!
In other words, speakers tend to put their focus too much on the content of their presentation and not on the recall of what was actually taught.
Most people fall into the more-is-more fallacy because when they put together their presentation, they think almost exclusively about the presentation itself (i.e., what to say and how to say it).
The good news is that there is an easy fix.
The Rule Of One
They will remember your idea forever if you ask yourself a simple question before every presentation.
To put together a presentation that truly impacts your audience and makes you a world-class presenter, you want to approach your presentation completely differently than most speakers. You don’t want to think about your presentation itself but instead, think of what specifically you want your audience to recall long after your presentation is over. This is a crucial paradigm shift.
Your impact is directly related to how much people remember and therefore can apply what you spoke about. According to professor of psychology at the University of Texas Dr. Art Markman, “In most talks, you are trying to affect the explicit memory of your audience. Explicit memory involves the aspects of your presentation that people can recall later.”
So what should we focus on instead?
The single most important question you can ask yourself to create the best content possible for your audience is what I call the Rule of One: “What is the one thing I want my audience to remember most six months from now?”
Any time you have a list of things you want your audience to remember, circle one thing you believe is most important for your audience to recall in six months, and cross out everything else. There is a reason Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most memorable speeches in American history. It was singular in its focus on what MLK wanted his audience to remember. Think of it this way: MLK gave the “I Have A Dream” speech, not the “I Have Many Dreams” speech. As a result, over fifty years later, tens of millions of people still remember what that dream was.
In reality, most people will remember one idea from your talk six months from now anyway, so wouldn’t it make sense for you to be crystal clear on what you’d want that one thing to be? When I coach business owners who want to put together their signature keynote, I often hear them say I want to speak on X (leadership, business growth, etc.). But when I ask them what is the one thing they want their audience to remember most after their presentation is over six months from now, I often get left with a blank stare because they have never thought of this before.
Starting with the Rule of One, they can start framing their presentation totally differently. It moves from thinking, “What are all the things I can talk about to my audience?” to focusing in on, “What is the information that my audience most needs to move them from where they are now to truly understanding the power of my one particular thing?”
Stripping down your message so that you are clear on what is the singular most important idea your audience will remember will inherently make your speaking more memorable, more impactful and easier for people to spread to others. The fear I see people have with the Rule-of-One framework is that the presentation will seem bare. Think of the well-crafted presentation the way an interior designer looks at minimalist design versus design that feels unfinished. Minimalist design is all about prioritizing the essential. You want to prioritize the essential idea of your presentation.
A presentation like this will be easier to remember because, in reality, there is only one thing to actually remember. By doing this, you will greatly impact your audience and make your message memorable and, therefore, easier for people to reference and recall.
The next time you have to put together a presentation, remember the Rule of One, and your next presentation just might be the one presentation your audience actually remembers six months from now (and hopefully longer than that!).