In a strange bit of serendipity, I had the privilege to coach two exceptional speakers who were giving different high stakes presentations on the same weekend. Roy B. presented a talk on a purpose driven death, and Ken W. delivered a keynote focused on internal and external stigma. Both had the goal of getting their respective audiences to think differently about their topics and act accordingly.
Roy and Ken are great storytellers, and as I worked with each of them to hone their stories, two key elements emerged that made their stories so compelling: repetition and detail. Allow me to briefly describe each…
Repetition. As a speaker, you have several tools available to you that act as verbal highlighters for your points. For example, you can vary your voice and rate so that you emphasize a key point, or you can show a slide that reinforces what you are saying. Repeating yourself verbatim is another tool, and it provides added benefits beyond simply adding emphasis. First, repetition grabs your audience’s attention, especially if you let them know you are saying it again: “Let me say that again,” or “I’ll repeat that.” We have been conditioned by our parents and teachers to adjust our focus and pay attention to something that is repeated. Second, if you’ve ever learned something by going over it again and again, you know that repetition helps to solidify something in your memory. So, consider repeating an important point immediately after you say it. Or alternatively, repeat a key phrase or idea a few times throughout your talk. In either way, you will gain both attention and retention.
Detail. In the great book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath discuss what they term the “Velcro theory of memory.” Velcro is a fastener that works by linking hundreds upon hundreds of tiny hooks and loops together. The more hooks and loops you have, the stronger your Velcro strip becomes. The Heath brothers explain that we can help people remember information better by providing more and more hooks to reinforce our point(s). This guidance is not implying that you should present lots and lots of information – I am certainly not advocating for more bullet points, but rather, the advice is to provide detailed descriptions that help your audience to understand and see what it is you are talking about. By being vividly descriptive, you provide more ways for your audience to connect and ultimately remember your content. An additional benefit of this type of descriptive detail is that it often invokes a visceral response to what you are talking about; this technique serves as a way to move your audience emotionally. Employ detailed, vivid information in the examples and anecdotes you provide.
I am amazed at how natural and useful certain speaking techniques can seem when in the hands of highly capable presenters. I encourage all of you to include repetition and detail into the presentations that you deliver.