If you have ever attended or seen an exceptional concert, you may have noticed that both the beginning and the ending were exceptionally well done.
The primacy effect and the recency effect state that we are most likely to remember what we hear first and what we hear last. For example, view Barbara Streisand's Timeless concert, Fleetwood Mac's The Dance concert, or any other performer whom you especially admire and look carefully at how he or she constructed both the beginning and the ending to see the primacy and the recency effects in action. What you say first is critically important because many listeners have already formed an opinion of you as a speaker and are forming expectations of your presentation within the first seven to 90 seconds.
We recommend you spend a great deal of effort on getting your beginning and ending just right. Paradoxically, you are probably better off starting by preparing what you will say last. There are two principal reasons behind this assertion. First, the beginning is almost always the hardest to do. Second, deciding on your ending will help you focus your whole presentation. Craig Valentine, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking says, "One reason most speakers don't get their message across to an audience is because they don't know what their own message is. So before you speak or write a single word, you must determine exactly what you want the audience to think, feel, or do as a result of hearing you." Therefore, you need to ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to think, feel, or do as a result of attending my presentation?" This line of reasoning, starting with what you will say last, is summed up beautifully in one of the most famous lines from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -- "Start with the end in mind."
Your ending gives you a chance to summarize your main points; tell a short story; use a quote, poem, or metaphor to make sure that the meaning of what you are presenting is as three-dimensional and clear as possible; or to use a mnemonic to make it easy for your audience to remember your key points. The ending should also provide the final motivation to overcome the inertia that we all feel when we have to start a new task or do something differently than we have done before. Your ending should include something that can pass the "five-year test." That is, it should be so good that even though they may have forgotten you, they will remember your message five years into the future.
In music, it is the refrain; in writing, it is the theme. A listener's mind will wander, no matter how dynamic the presenter or how compelling the message. Consequently, it is a mistake to think, "I said it; they heard it." Listening is greatly different than reading. When reading, you can always go back and reread. But when listening to a live performance, you can't go back and re-hear. Therefore, if it is important, say it more than once. One expert presenter framed it well, positing the three Rs of speaking: Repetition plus Restatement will help your message be Remembered.
With this repetition, you will give your audience a mantra they won't soon forget. It's just like in advertising where the best advertisements are so good they become part of our long-term memory. Think of some of the best advertisement slogans you have ever heard—slogans such as "Where's the beef?" and "Don't leave home without it." Skilled presenters take full advantage of the same principle in their presentations, anchoring their material with memorable key phrases that they want to lock into listeners' consciousness. We have done this in a presentations skills course repeating the key phrase "most people overprepare on content and underprepare on delivery."
If what you say often is not meaningful, memorable, or sincere, it will have the opposite effect of what you intended. Instead of making your presentation soar, it will make your presentation bomb. So, if it's important, repeat it; if you repeat it, make sure it's important.
Look at what you say often during your presentation. If it is important, do you say it frequently enough? Do you say it in a very memorable way? How could it be more like a mantra?
Pay close attention to what you say well. Sometimes, when giving a presentation, the muse is with you and you are able to capture the essence of what you are saying—your word choice is perfect, and the phrase is highly memorable. One way to listen carefully and to improve at the same time is to record your presentations. Don't just record the big events. Record every presentation, including your practice sessions. Many speakers have had the experience of accidentally finding the perfect word or phrase, were absolutely certain that they would remember it, only to find that they quickly forgot it.
In addition to performing your own self-assessment of what you say well, ask others what they think you say well. At times, others will summarize what you say better than when you said it, so don't be afraid to modify even your best phrases to make them better.
Likewise, it is possible to use a quote as a refrain throughout the presentation. For example, in speaking to daycare workers on the importance of their jobs, Carla Angleheart repeated a line from Kahlil Gibran: "Love is work made visible," to electrify her point on the importance of their work. Sometimes what you say well and what you say often will merge as in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Dr. King skillfully employed the vivid, memorable phrase "I have a dream" nine times in just over two minutes. He said it often. And he said it very, very well.EXERCISE 4-4
Follow the next four steps to improve the FLOW of your next presentation.
Step 1: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say First?
Step 2: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Last?
Step 3: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Often?
Step 4: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Well?