A common weakness of many presentations is that a month, a week, or even a day after the presentation, no one remembers what it was about. Or, if they do remember something about it, they are not doing anything differently than they were doing before the presentation. Therefore, for your presentation to be effective, you must actively work to make it memorable, actionable, and transferable. There is a great deal to consider in bringing this strategy to fruition, but it pays big dividends. Not all presenters will want to use all the techniques in this chapter. Keynote speakers, for example, typically use a minimum of the interactive learning techniques described here. But others, who present full-day or multiday seminars, will find these techniques invaluable.
Research has shown that 24 hours after hearing a presentation, the listener will forget at least 50 percent of all the information presented. In 24 more hours, another 50 percent will be forgotten. This means that in a mere 48 hours after hearing a presentation, no matter how attentive the listener is trying to be, no matter how good his notes are, he will forget about 75 percent of everything the speaker said.
In light of these statistics, this section examines the types of memory and presents 11 techniques that are guaranteed to enhance the memorability of your presentation. As an added bonus, you can use these memory techniques to help you organize your presentations.
There are two types of memory: short-term and long-term. Short-term memory allows us to remember a telephone number or someone's name right after we have heard it for up to two minutes. This is the type of memory we use when we don't see a need for the new information after its immediate use.
Long-term memory allows you to remember the person's name for the foreseeable future. Presenters who truly make an impact are the ones who can most effectively place their message in a listener's long-term memory. That is the first purpose of this chapter: how to make you and your presentation more memorable.
The following section examines 11 memory-retention techniques:
Repetition and restatement.
Active vs. passive learning.
Increasing audience attentiveness.
Memory aids and mnemonic devices.
Most presenters use some of these techniques quite well. Skillful presenters not only know how to use all of the techniques, they also know the perfect time and place to use them.
Repetition is the mother of learning.
If we repeat a fact seven times, we increase our likelihood of remembering that fact by 80 percent. This is why veteran presenters repeat, repeat, repeat. Then they restate, restate, restate since they know that if they repeat or restate a key point seven times, the listener's retention will be significantly increased. A common weakness of some presenters is to assume: "I said it; they heard it. Move on." True, the audience may have heard your words, but it is possible, if not probable, that they didn't understand you. Even if they did understand you, they will promptly forget what you said. Experienced presenters know that an oral presentation is greatly different than a written document. Why? Readers can always reread; listeners cannot re-listen. As a result, skillful presenters build in repetition and restatement as if they were imagining the listener is using a yellow marker to high-light the important points.
Experienced presenters also vary their explanations and/or start with a relatively simple application of a principle and add complexity as warranted. If you have learned a second language, for example, you may recall how the instructor started with simple words, which led to simple phrases, which led to simple sentences. Good presenters do the same.
A much less frequently used method of repetition is to ask the participants to summarize the material. In our courses, we stop periodically to ask the participants to state something that they have learned, or relearned up to that point in the presentation. If the group is large, you can't call on everyone. However, you can ask for volunteers, or you can call on people at random. A word of caution: When calling on people at random, we recommend you give them the right to decline the chance to participate. If you remember ever being embarrassed by a lack of preparedness when you were in school, you'll understand why this "free pass" is important.
When you have found a willing participant, ask him or her to repeat something that you or someone else has already said. To be more inclusive and less "selective," give everyone enough time to think of an answer, or have them write down the most important one, two, or three things that they have learned or relearned up to that point. After everyone has had a chance to think of an answer, then ask for volunteers to share their thoughts. You will usually find no shortage of willing participants as long as you have given them a moment to prepare.
This exercise makes learning active rather than passive. You will usually find the participants can summarize most, if not all of your teaching points. The beauty of this activity is that some of your points will be repeated, while others will be restated. And these two techniques are exactly what you are trying to accomplish.
Remember, though, it is still the job of the presenter to fill in any missing points, to elaborate on any points that might need clarification, and to bring some sense of order to the comments that were randomly offered.
In passive learning, the participants are silent recipients of information that is all too often read to them. This is a technique that produces little, if any, long-term learning.
In active learning, the participants are more than silent partners. In active learning, the participants receive the same information, but are encouraged to transmit information back. Think back to the best teacher you ever had. Chances are, he or she involved you in the learning process on a much higher level than mere listening. Active learning techniques should be incorporated as appropriate in presentations.
Which would you prefer: a presenter who explains a concept and gives one or two examples before moving on, or a presenter who gives a concept and then divides the participants into groups and asks each group to give an example of how they can apply the concept in real life? Most people prefer the active learning approach over the passive listening style.
In the active learning example just presented, there are four ways that the participants can be actively involved:
They can be asked to come up with a specific example of how the solution could be applied in real life.
They can be asked to listen carefully to the other examples in order to choose the one that they like best.
They can be asked to debate the merits of each proposed example in order to choose the one that the group will present.
They can be asked to listen carefully to see which group presents the best example(s) overall.
Two techniques that are guaranteed to raise the level of attentiveness in your audience are humor, novelty, and surprise. This is important because increasing attentiveness will help to move your material into the participants' long-term memory.
Humor. Humor is a sure-fire way to get an audience to pay attention. Why? Because everybody likes to laugh. So an audience will listen more attentively if they think the speaker is likely to say something funny. They will pay attention in anticipation of the next good laugh. That's how it works for the audience—they will listen more attentively just because they don't want to miss "any of the good stuff."
Seasoned presenters know that humor has a greater purpose. They know that when we laugh, we relax; when we relax, we learn. In short, there is nothing more powerful than a message that entertains. That's why humor is considered an indispensable tool.
Of course, all speakers must be careful with their choice of jokes and/or stories because what is politically correct today can be totally unacceptable tomorrow. As times change, so do standards of acceptability. Also, what is acceptable in one place can be completely inappropriate in another. In the United States, for example, it is usually considered acceptable to joke about the President. That is permissible as a result of the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. In other countries, though, where individual rights and liberties are different, a speaker would be a fool to poke fun at that country's leaders. For example, David was honored to be invited to speak in Thailand a few years ago.
David: Before I spoke, one of my hosts politely asked if I intended to make any reference, humorous or otherwise, about the King or any member of the Royal Family. I told him I had no intention of doing so, to which he replied: "Good. You shouldn't do that here." It was a good reminder that what works in one country can be totally unacceptable in another.
Humor has both its risks and its rewards. When it works, it's wonderful. When it doesn't, it's deadly. So is it worth the risk? Our advice: Let common sense be your guide. It's better to err on the side of caution, so when in doubt, leave it out.
Another factor to consider is that jokes or humorous stories usually increase the attentiveness level of the individuals in your audience for a very short time. Unless you are naturally funny, and/or have developed a routine of jokes and stories that will raise the attentiveness level of your audience for sustained periods of time, there are other techniques that may serve you better, such as novelty and surprise.
Novelty and surprise. Brad attended a National Speakers Association conference in Los Angeles and what he remembers most vividly was a session by presentations coach Robert Pike. Robert was able to raise the participants' level of attentiveness before the session even began by using the power of novelty and surprise. This is how he did it.
Brad: When I entered the room, I noticed that instead of reading their programs or talking with the person next to them, everyone in the room was split into small groups. They seemed to be working incredibly intensely on a project. The first thing I did was check my watch. Could I have been late? The answer was no. In fact, the session was not due to start for another five minutes. Was I ever curious. Robert then instructed the people who had just come in to join a group. One of my group members informed me that our task was to list the top 10 languages in the world in order of how many people spoke each language. I was hooked, as was everyone who was in our group and all of the people who joined in after me. We hypothesized, debated, and "guess-timated." Time was announced, and we looked up at the overhead as Robert presented the correct list, in order, from the book The Top Ten of Everything by Russell Ash.
The session's topic was on making one's presentations more interactive, and for me this exercise was the most memorable part of the whole conference. Robert was able to raise the attentiveness level of each individual and of his audience as a whole before his presentation even started.
A similar technique is used in our negotiation course.
Brad: Ninety-nine point nine percent of the workshops I have attended start out with introductions and expectations. I start my course with a negotiation. This is a two-person negotiation based on the buying and selling of a house. The instructions state that the buyer and seller have agreed on everything except the closing date. The buyer wants a closing date of June 1st, and the seller wants a closing date of June 30th. The participants have seven minutes to read their instructions and see if they can reach an agreement.
I have never seen this exercise fail to raise the attentiveness level of the participants and for the group as a whole. The participants are instantly engaged in the course, and the expectation is set that the course will be highly interactive and experiential.
Briefly describe an example of how you have seen a presenter raise the attentiveness level in his or her audience.
Next, describe a situation where you did your best at raising the attentiveness level of the participants in one of your presentations.
To complete this exercise, outline how you can do a better job of raising the attentiveness level in one of your future presentations.
There are times in our lives when we hear a catchy slogan, motto, or tune and just can't seem to get it out of our heads. This is a technique that advertisers use all the time. Several examples are: "Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven, and Pillsbury does it best," "Where's the beef?" from Wendy's, or "Don't leave home without it" from American Express. Just as advertisers use memory aids and repetition, so do presenters. Giving participants in classroom courses or seminars a review sheet, a bookmark, or a business card with a slogan, motto, or "point of wisdom" also increases the likelihood that it will be transferred to the participants' long-term memories.
Another simple, yet effective memory aid is one David uses in his seminars in which he asks the participants to simply fill in the blanks with key words, points, or phrases. All who have ever taught in a classroom know the reason for this is twofold.
First, it is a focusing technique. Fill-in-the-blank activities keep the listener focused on the exact point David is making, and at the exact time he wants the listener to focus on that point. If you have ever been given a handout in which all the reference material is supplied verbatim, you have probably been tempted to either 1) read ahead, or 2) start to daydream, secure in the knowledge that you can always read the handout later. Either way, the presenter has lost the listener. For example, all of us have a handout somewhere in our files that we've been meaning to get back to but never have. The fact is, few, if any, of your audience members will refer to your handouts once they leave your program. That's why you have to make sure the important point sticks with your audience—at the moment the point is made.
The second reason why simple fill-in-the-blank activities are effective is that we are more likely to remember what we have written out in our own handwriting. There is something about the process of taking information in through the eyes and ears, processing it in our brains, and then recording it with our hands that gives us a sense of ownership of the material. It's as if you are telling yourself: "I wrote this down; it must have been important." Curiously, this works even if you were instructed to write it down. There is just an air of significance and permanence that comes through when we put words to paper.
Other types of memory aids include course summaries, tip sheets, and other mnemonic devices. A mnemonic is a clue designed to help us recall something more complex. Acronyms are common and effective mnemonic devices. Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, authors of a widely read book on negotiating, Getting to Yes, use the term BATNA to represent Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If you remember the short acronym "BATNA," you can recreate the longer phrase it represents.
The main purpose of an acronym is to reduce complicated phrases or concepts to simple or memorable words and images. Many North American school children, for example, remember the five Great Lakes with the simple acronym HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. If you've ever heard that mnemonic before, you probably remembered it. And for those of you who never heard it before, there's an excellent chance you won't forget it, either.
If you are not sure if this really works, try this test. On a sheet of paper, write down the acronym we just discussed: HOMES. Set it aside. Come back to that page in 24 hours and test yourself. Odds are, you'll be able to remember what the acronym stands for and be able to recite the full version of what the acronym represents. Look at it again in a week, in a month, in a year. Again, odds are, you will still remember what it stands for. And when you consider that 48 hours after any presentation, most listeners forget 75 percent of everything they heard, any technique or device that helps move information into long-term memory is worth considering.
That's what memory aids do. They give the listener a hook on which to hang important information. If you remember the hook, no matter how silly it may sound, you are much more likely to remember the information paired with it. A word of caution on the use of acronyms: Many presenters use acronyms that are hard to remember. It should be obvious that if you can't remember the acronym, you certainly won't remember the information assigned it, but many presenters overlook this key point. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear a presenter say, usually with great fanfare, "To help you follow along, today I will use…ta-daaah…an acronym!" (as if that is a revolutionary idea). Then they unveil some hopelessly bland, nondescript, or overused word such as ACHIEVE. Then they set out to assign meaning to each letter of the word. The problem is, the more common the acronym, the less likely it will be remembered. That is, if the acronym lacks uniqueness, it usually lacks memorability.
Just as a test, David presented in Toronto a program on presentation skills to an international group of speakers during which he was to make 10 points. He looked for a 10-letter word or phrase that would allow him to make his 10 points, and also be so different that the listeners would not forget it. The acronym he came up with fit both requirements.
David: I introduced the acronym as follows. "Today I have 10 points to make, so to help you remember and follow along, I'm going to use a common speakers' device, an acronym. I looked for a word or phrase that would be appropriate for the occasion, but I couldn't find one that had the right combination of letters for the points I wanted to make. So in desperation, I put the first letter of each key point on an index card. Then I took my 10 cards, tossed them in the air and let them land where they may. Well, imagine my surprise when I found, with just minor rearranging, not one word, but two that would work." Then, as I directed their attention to a projection screen, I said, "So the two words I want you to remember today are ROACH MOTEL." As I expected, there was a momentary stunned silence. Then, about two seconds later, the place erupted in laughter. Why? I caught them by surprise. It was unlike any acronym they had seen, and totally contrary to the mundane acronyms they were accustomed to seeing. And it had two added bonuses. First, it introduced an expectation of fun. But more importantly, it was memorable. The truth is, I didn't know just how memorable it would be until last year, a full nine years after the program, I received a phone call. The caller said, "Is this David, from the ROACH MOTEL?" I was flattered, I think. Moreover, I was impressed, for sure. Because any time that a message is remembered for nine years, I know I've done my job.
How will you use memory aids more effectively in your next presentation?
Long after the audience has forgotten your name and the title of your presentation, they will remember your stories, which is why expert presenters are such apt storytellers. One of the best storytellers in the business is Les Brown. In the middle of one of his speeches, he stopped speaking and started snapping his fingers. Then he asked the audience to snap their fingers. As they were all snapping their fingers, Les started to tell a most awe-inspiring story about visiting a friend, Miss Francis, in the hospital. Les said, "I stopped at the nurses' station and asked directions to her room. The nurse said, ‘You must mean Miss Positive,’ and proceeded to give me directions to her room." Even though Miss Francis was frail and weak from the cancer and chemotherapy that had ravaged her body, when a favorite piece of music came on the radio, the frail woman started snapping her fingers to the tune. Les paused dramatically and said in his deepest, most resonating voice, "Miss Francis did not let life take her snap away! And don't you let life take your snap away!"
At that point, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Professional speaking just doesn't get any better than that. However, Les Brown's story had an unexpected subsequent effect.
Brad: I left our house early one Saturday morning to give a keynote speech in Toronto that same afternoon. I was back home mid-morning the following day. As I drove up to the house, I noticed that one of our patio chairs was on the front porch. When I approached the front doors, I was surprised to find them open. Obviously, my children had forgotten something and had left the doors open. I then saw that they had left the back door open too. I was just thinking that I would have to give them a good talking to, when I noticed that the microwave was missing from its customary perch in the kitchen. Further investigation revealed that the computer, stereo, video camera, and all of the CDs were gone. The kids didn't forget. We had been robbed!
The police came and went. As I waited for my children to arrive, I had half an hour to reflect. Did I feel violated—especially thinking that the robbers had gone into all of our bedrooms.
I tried to be philosophical about it. No one was hurt. Others have had their whole homes destroyed. The robbers only took electronics. Everything could be replaced. I still felt violated and for the first time felt uneasy in my own home.
Then came the knock at the door. My children had arrived. I explained what had happened. My daughter was standing on the first landing of the stairs on the way up to her bedroom when she stopped. She turned toward me, looked me right in the eyes and said, "Daddy, don't let those robbers take your snap away." She had learned that lesson from listening to a Les Brown story—ironclad proof of the power of an excellent story, perfectly told, to be absolutely memorable—even to a 10-year-old.
Do you have a story or stories that a 10-year-old would remember? If you have one, try it out on a 10-year-old and see if it passes the memorability test. If you don't have one or if the one you have doesn't pass the 10-year-old test, get to work at developing one.
Test your stories often. Your audience will continually give you feedback both on the content and on the delivery. Experiment a bit. Top-notch presenters we have interviewed told us that story development is an experience in trial and error, and is a lifelong process.
Defining moments are that part of the presentation where the audience not only gets it, but they also get that they get it. It is at this point that the goal or lesson of the presentation becomes crystal clear. It is also at this point that the audience understands precisely what the presenter intended to communicate and is given a choice to act, or not act, on what they have learned.
Peter Lege is business owner, author, presenter, and volunteer extraordinaire. He is recognized as a World Class Presenter by three speakers' organizations: Toastmasters International, the National Speakers Association, and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. What makes Peter such an accomplished presenter that he is recognized by three organizations? First, Peter is a keen observer; second, he is an accomplished storyteller; third, he is a relentless reader and student of history; fourth he is a master user of analogies; fifth, he is a gifted developer of transitions; sixth, he is an exceptional wordsmith; and seventh, he is a powerful asker of questions. This is illustrated with a segment of one of Peter's presentations: You Never Know.
His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to eke out a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran. There, mired to his waist in mud, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's farm, and an elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.
"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life."
"No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer said, and at that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door.
"Is that your son?" the nobleman asked.
"Yes," said the farmer.
"I'll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll grow to be a man you can be proud of."
And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming's son graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin.
Someone once said that what goes around comes around.
What we can learn from observing Peter Lege is that excellent Presenters accomplish seven times more than less accomplished presenters, using multiple skills and teaching on multiple levels, all at the same time. In the example above, we can see how Peter artfully used this intriguing story as an analogy to illustrate that what goes around, comes around. He then, both implicitly and explicitly, asks us to evaluate ourselves by asking the question, "Will we be happy with what we are doing today when it comes back to us tomorrow?"EXERCISE 5-4
Part I: Think about three of the finest presentations you have ever seen or heard. Then identify the defining moment for each of these three presentations. That is, at what moment did you get it and "get that you got it"?
Part II: Identify a defining moment from one of your own presentations.
Part III: If you already have a defining moment, can you enhance it? Or if you don't have a defining moment, how could you craft one?
Masterful presenters present their ideas more eloquently, more profoundly, and more powerfully than their less masterful counterparts—and in half the time. Peter Lege became one of North America's foremost presenters because he understands defining moments and knows how to use them eloquently, profoundly, powerfully, and succinctly.
Anchoring is the act of helping to anchor an idea, concept, and/or principle in another person's memory. This can be done visually, aurally, and kinesthetically.
I try to create useful, deeply connecting programs with humor and stories that are hard for audience members to erase from their minds. I do that in the framework similar to music composition—say a symphony from the Romantic Period—with highs and lows, different speeds, all built toward a climax. I find that works well. Then of course I use visual effects. For example, sometimes I physically carry someone on my back across the stage; usually a fairly robust man, and the audience connects that with carrying around too much, doing too much. Then I follow with a quote by Peter Drucker: "Businesses don't fail because they don't know what to do; they fail because they don't know what to give up."
The fact is, some people "listen" with their eyes. That is, visual learners can learn more by seeing one physical illustration or demonstration than any printed or spoken explanation will ever accomplish.
Aurally. Another way to anchor your material in your audience's long-term memory is to anchor it aurally. For example, Brad was in London and decided to visit the underground war rooms where Winston Churchill lived and held some of his war cabinet meetings, which had recently been reopened as a museum. Remarkably, they were untouched since they had been closed in 1945 at the end of the war. The underground command center made quite an impression. However, the most memorable part of the visit was hearing Churchill's voice saying, "We will never, never, ever surrender…" Brad says that he can still hear Churchill speaking in his mind today, as if he just visited the museum. The memory was anchored aurally.
Marcia Steele in one of her presentations provides another example. In this she speaks eloquently of her experience emigrating from Jamaica to New York at a young age. Then she stops and sits down in a chair on stage next to a writing table. Instantly, the audience is transported back into time, as it hears the recorded voice of Walter Cronkite announce the tragic news that Martin Luther King, Jr., has been assassinated. Marcia uses nothing but sound to illustrate a transition in her life and in the life of her country. It is a powerful moment, anchored aurally.
Kinesthetically. Kinesthetic learners are those who learn best by touching or doing. They are "hands-on" learners. One of the principles emphasized in our negotiation course is, "You can't change someone's mind if you don't know where their mind is." He used four methods to make sure that the participants remember this phrase. The first is repetition. He says it at least seven times. The second is to anchor it kinesthetically in a handshake with one's partner. The third is to start the phrase and ask the class to finish it. The fourth is by using the phrase as one of the answers in a quiz at the beginning of the second day.
Brad: I anchor a key point kinesthetically by asking the participants to find a partner. I then demonstrate one of our mantras, "You can't change someone's mind if you don't know where their mind is" with a volunteer from the audience. We repeat the mantra while we are shaking hands as if we had just been introduced. Please note that the rhythm of the handshake is matched to the rhythm at which the words are being spoken—which is modeled at a slow tempo. The purpose of this exercise is to anchor the words through hearing, but also kinesthetically in the feel of the handshake. The principle is further reinforced because handshaking is symbolic of agreement. By the time this exercise is repeated three or four times with the audience members, the phrase, "You can't change someone's mind if you don't know where his or her mind is" is anchored both aurally and kinesthetically, which helps to transfer it to one's long-term memory.
One way to think about what we are tying to accomplish when we say that we want to anchor it kinesthetically is to think about a song, jingle, or advertisement that starts to drive you crazy because it keeps playing itself over and over again in your mind. What we want to accomplish here is the same thing, only we want to do it on purpose. Therefore, the participants are instructed that every time they shake someone's hand, the phrase, "You can't change someone's mind if you don't know where their mind is" is to be repeated silently to themselves. In other words, we are using the psychological principle of pairing, that is, taking something that naturally occurs at a high rate, and pairing it with something that would naturally occur at a low rate, thereby increasing the frequency of the activity that naturally occurs at a low rate, and hence the likelihood that it will be remembered.
Another technique to anchor it kinesthetically is through the use of one-minute neck massages.
Brad: I use this technique to help people remember one of William Ury's five-part model for breakthrough negotiations. Once again, the participants are asked to select partners. I make sure that no one is left out, so if there is an extra participant, that participant can work with the seminar leader. Each participant is instructed to give his or her partner a 30-second neck massage. They are to massage their partner's neck while saying: "Going to the balcony means keeping your eye on the prize, not getting emotionally hooked, and looking at the situation as an incredibly wise third-party." The masseuse is to massage gently all the while saying the above phrase at a slow rate. The instructor repeats the phrase two times, and the masseuse is instructed to say the words out loud along with the instructor. The masseuse and person being massaged then switch roles and the process is repeated.
The exercise will only work if the instructor and the participants feel comfortable using it. You need to point out at the beginning of the exercise that if anyone is not comfortable doing the exercise, they can simply repeat the phrase to themselves. In addition, this is also a good exercise to bring about a change of pace when people have been sitting for a long period of time. It took me a while to get up enough nerve to use it and the feedback that I have received from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive.
Think of the best examples where you saw a presenter anchor his or her point visually, aurally, and kinesthetically.
Think of two or three places where you can anchor a learning point visually, aurally, or kinesthetically in one of your upcoming presentations.
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them. For example, Toastmaster Hans Lillejord says, "Some words are diamonds; some words are stones," which is a metaphor. Conversely, you could say, "Some words are valuable; some are worthless"—but the diamonds and stones metaphor evokes a much stronger imagery. For visual and auditory learners, vivid images are more likely to connect and to stick.
A captivating metaphor that catches the participants' imaginations is often one of presenters' most powerful tools. For example, in successful change management, an appropriate metaphor can help the organization better understand what is necessary to move not only from one organizational structure to another but also from one organizational culture to another.
The amalgamation of five fiercely proud and independent hospitals into a combined Health Sciences Centre illustrates the difficulties involved in this type of transition. During this time Brad developed a course on managing change and uncertainty and then trained all of the trainers in staff training and development on how to facilitate the course. One of his favorite techniques is to divide the participants into subgroups of five or six, and then ask them to draw pictures to identify metaphors that represent the current state of the organization and a picture of what the ideal state of the organization would look like.
Although at the outset the groups tend to be resistive, once they start on the task and get into it, the energy and creativity in the room becomes readily apparent. For example, one group of participants at the new Health Sciences Centre used the metaphor of Rubik's Cube to represent the complexity of amalgamating five hospitals, four distinct cultures, and 14 unions.
The idea of using Rubik's Cube as a metaphor for the transition was perfect. The amalgamation was so complex that trying to solve one problem often created another problem somewhere else, just as in trying to solve the Rubik's Cube—that is, getting all of one color on one side of the cube—most often created a patchwork of color on another side of the cube. However, the power of this metaphor is that the Rubik's Cube does have a solution—a very difficult and time-consuming solution, but a solution nonetheless. In this case, the metaphor helped the participants easily grasp and remember three important lessons: the difficulty of the task of solving all of the problems; the hard work, effort and time necessary to solve the problems; and the understanding that the cube (and the amalgamation of the five hospitals) is ultimately solvable.
Another group had a very different but equally powerful metaphor. This group chose the metaphor "follow the yellow brick road" from The Wizard of Oz. As in the metaphor of the Rubik's Cube, the journey was long and difficult, but the final destination could be reached safely in the end. The major focus in this group's metaphor, however, was on the qualities that the participants and the organization as a whole would have to possess in order to successfully complete their journey. These qualities were the qualities that the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow were valiantly searching for: courage, wisdom, and caring or compassion.
When we looked at these two drawings together and the metaphors they contained, we had a very powerful way to conceptualize the challenges facing the new hospital. The Rubik's Cube perfectly exemplified the complexity of the merger and the need to patiently work on solutions. The metaphor from The Wizard of Oz perfectly represented the human qualities necessary for a successful transition. Metaphors provide an excellent tool to speak about some of the unspoken conversations that can hold the organization back and help transform the difficult coversation into skillful dialogue that can help move the organization forward. It is also true that the participants will remember particularly meaningful metaphors long after they have forgotten your name or the title of your presentation.
Brad was asked to do a workshop on managing change and uncertainty for a local high school. By interviewing a representative sample of the staff before the workshop, he was able to determine their main concerns: new education legislation that was before the legislature; the number of school boards in the province was being decreased from 26 to five through consolidation; the new legislation would mean the teachers would have less control over their day-to-day activities; workloads were increasing while preparation time was decreasing; and their administration was offered early retirement, which could result in an entirely new and unknown administration for the school.
Brad: My experience in reading about and conducting workshops on managing change and uncertainty has taught me a great deal about this subject. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that during times of change and uncertainty most of us feel adrift. We tend to feel less anchored to the past because the old ways are no longer working. We feel less anchored to the present because by their very nature, change and uncertainty tell us that the present will no longer be viable, either. We also tend to feel less anchored to the future during times of change and uncertainty because, by its very nature, the future is less clear. In other words, we are less anchored, period.
The purpose of this workshop was to help the teachers examine their present situation in relation to their past, present, and future anchors. We examined our past transitions and looked at the skills, strategies, and supports that anchored us through those changes. We examined our present situation and looked at the skills, strategies, and supports that exist in our current world that will help us work through our current transitions more effectively. Lastly, we looked at a number of techniques that could help to anchor the future. When the future is sufficiently clear, it acts as a magnet drawing us toward it.
In using this technique, the participants are invited, either individually or in groups, to write a short three-act play. It is helpful to think about three components for each act: a description of the setting in which the act will take place, a storyline for the act, and music for the act. Let me give a description of how this was done by one of my client groups.
The first play was in the form of an allegory. I observed this group preparing their play. An English teacher in the group had written a number of plays and under his guidance, this group wrote their play in vivid detail, where Act One presented the story of a young teacher who had just arrived at the school after completing his degree and teacher's training. He was idealistic, enthusiastic, and full of passion for his chosen career.
In Act Three, the young teacher is taken under the wing of a wise, older teacher, and he becomes realistically grounded in expectations of what he can and cannot accomplish.
In this same workshop, another group of creative teachers used music to anchor their points in a way that the audience will never forget.
Brad: The second play was in the form of a musical review. The group carefully chose the songs for each of the three acts and sang the words to each song, loudly and clearly. The song for Act One was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Given the fears about what could happen to their school under the new education legislation, this choice was very appropriate. The song for the Act Two, where things get worse was "Help" by the Beatles. And the song for Act Three, where things get better, was the ballad, "We'll Rise Again" by the Rankin Family, with the words about seeing "the future in the faces of our children" being exceptionally appropriate.
The singing of "We'll Rise Again" was a moving experience for all of us. It captured in music the teachers' and administration's vision of what they liked best about their school and how they wanted to anchor that vision in the future. When I tell this story in seminars and keynotes and accompany the story with this inspiring piece of music, often there is not a dry eye in the room.
Each of these plays and songs expressed important elements about the way the staff saw the school, about their fears, and most importantly, about their vision of the future and what they wanted for their school.
Another technique is to ask the participants to write lyrics to a song. The participants must use course material in their song. Composing and singing a song will help move the material from the participants' short-term memory to their long-term memory. Reviewing, choosing, and prioritizing the course material means that the course participants will be more likely to remember the material. Secondly, the material that the course participants choose to go into the song becomes highlighted with extra meaning.
Brad: The participants in our presentations course composed the following song. The song was based on a Newfoundland ballad.
It's the bye that writes the speech and it's thy bye that gives her.
It's the bye that avoids the TRAPS by knowing all my listeners.
Tell them what's in it for me. Remember HUD and A.B.C.
Open with a dandy hook and don't forget to close her.
Use good evidence, simulations, and stories that surprise ya.
And don't forget to start it off with an advanced organizer.
Practice, practice, practice it's not too big a chore, and when you think you've done enough, it's time to do some more.
After the participants compose and sing the course theme song, they teach their song to the other course participants, thereby increasing the involvement of all and increasing the memorability of the course material and increasing the fun and entertaining value of the presentation all at the same time. In summary, plays and songs are a unique way to add memorability, fun, and creativity to your presentations.
Learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you have.
Twenty-five percent of the impact of your presentation comes from a powerful beginning. Another 25 percent comes from a powerful ending. Thus, it pays to have terrific endings. One way to do this is with games.
There are three things that a great ending should include: a review or summary of what was learned, a call for action, and a mnemonic device (memory aid) to help the participants capture the essence of what was learned.
Games can help you do all three. They can review and summarize your material, add fun and creativity to your presentations, and increase the level of attentiveness of your audience and therefore make your presentations more memorable.
Negotiation Jeopardy. Brad uses a game he calls "Negotiation Jeopardy" where questions are derived from the course summary.
Brad: The contestants are divided into two or three groups depending on the number of participants in the course. Up to 14, I usually divide the participants into two groups; with 15 or more, I use three groups. It is a closed-book and closed-notes exercise. The participants quickly become involved trying to remember all of the course materials. All of this helps move the concepts from the participants' short-term memory to their long-term memory.
One very interesting thing about this review is that the participants usually don't even see it as a review. They see it as a game, and it doesn't take long for the contestants to become very competitive with each other. This raises their level of attentiveness, and that increased level of attentiveness also increases the likelihood that the material will transfer to the participants' long-term memory.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The groups that work on this game always have an incredibly good time. They carefully prepare the questions in ascending order of difficulty. One of their members plays the role of emcee and carefully asks the contestant if he or she would like to move up to the next level, realizing of course, that if he or she misses, all of their "previous winnings" will be for naught.
The group that organizes the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" contest picks the contestant from among the remaining course members. In my experience, they always pick one of the most extroverted and fun-loving members of the class, and this also adds to the excitement and fun of the game. As in "Negotiation Jeopardy," the participants are having so much fun that it raises their level of attentiveness, and this again contributes to anchoring the course materials in their long-term memory.
Newspaper Personals. Newspaper personals are a great way to have fun, raise everyone's level of attentiveness, and increase memorability. All you have to do is to ask the participants to do a skit modeled on the personals in newspapers. For example, the five components most often used to describe superb presenters are: credible, competent, dynamic, compatible, and caring. Five participants are selected and given signs for each component. Each participant then has to introduce him- or herself and their characteristic in the style of a personal want ad. For example, "I am a single, caring 33-year-old male. I demonstrate credibility by thoroughly researching both my subject and my audience. I take full responsibility for things I don't know and will get back to the participant or the group as soon as I can find the answer." Or "I am a dynamic five-foot-eight female. I bring energy, enthusiasm, and passion to all of my presentations. I am looking for audiences who share similar characteristics." In sum, this is a great way to make your presentations more interesting. You never know what the participants are going to come up with and this element of surprise adds greatly to both the learning and the memorability of the experience. Some of the skits are so hilarious that the person doing the skit will have earned a nickname based on his or her skit that will last for at least the remainder of the presentation.
Bumper Stickers. The purpose of this exercise is to distill the wisdom learned in the presentation into the form of a bumper sticker. The bumper sticker should be a catchy phrase or acronym. The bumper sticker should also be easy to remember.
Brad: One group that I worked with was dealing with a lot of uncertainty related to the fact that their business would be significantly downsized. I was asked to give a presentation on managing change and uncertainty. As part of the presentation, I presented a psychological study that helps people better understand the effects of uncertainty. The study looked at the increasing levels of stress that women experienced who were married to men that have been in military combat and how their stress increased markedly with increasing levels of uncertainty. The three levels of uncertainty were women who were married to men who were killed in action (KIA), prisoners of war (POW), and missing in action (MIA). The study demonstrated that the women who were married to men who were MIAs experienced the greatest uncertainty and, hence, the greatest degree of stress. At the end of the presentation, I divided the participants into groups and asked them to make a bumper sticker to help summarize what they had learned.
The group that impressed me the most was a group that turned the letters POW into "Positive Opportunity Waiting." Other groups have turned the letters of their organization into a powerful motto: for example, "ATV" as standing for "Attitude, Teamwork, and Vision." After explaining the exercise, divide the participants into groups of four. Give each group 15 minutes to develop their bumper sticker and debrief.
Pantomime. Pantomime is a great way to make the end of your presentation fun, creative, and memorable. It is perfect for the end of the day when the participants are tired; you want to raise the energy and fun level.
Brad: In our negotiation course, the participants work very hard, so at the end of a long day I often divide the participants into small groups. Each group is asked to develop a pantomime to represent the most essential element of the day's learning. One of the most effective was where two of the men took off and exchanged their shoes to represent looking at the issue from their counterpart's perspective.
Acronyms. Acronyms are somewhat similar to bumper stickers, only in this case the participants have to take a word, such as "presenter" and match each letter to an element of the presentation process to help the participants remember the course material. One that the Harvard Program on Negotiation uses is BATNA to help the participants in their negotiation courses remember "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement" and I used the acronym TRAP to remember that one's audience is composed of theorists, reflectors, activists, and pragmatic learners.
We have just examined 11 techniques to help your audiences remember the material you present. These techniques included repetition and restatement; active vs. passive learning; increasing audience attentiveness; the use of memory aids, stories, defining moments, anchoring, metaphors, three-act plays, music, and games. Before you do anything else, make sure that you understand and know how to implement as many of these as possible. You can then go onto the next step, which is to make it actionable.