What Part Of Your Presentation Do You Want To Be Remembered

My answer is a resounding: It depends.

When you want to maximize the impact of your presentation, you will have to invest some effort and deliberate the design constraints that apply to your case. Generic descriptions of the communication objective and content like “business material” or “memorable” are insufficient to determine how you should tackle the task at hand.

Instead, you will need to consider what kind of information you want to convey and in what context the presentation takes place and then optimize for the objective that will guide your process. Are you giving a business pitch that has to compete with other pitches and needs to stand out? Are you looking to get the brass on board with a strategic decision in an internal meeting? Are you trying to inform different stakeholders of critical information so that they can orchestrate their efforts?

The kind of style that you see in the videos in my lab is geared to work in the medium of web video and thus it leverages the established conventions for the medium that drive user expectations, timing considerations, and so on. Moreover, the aesthetics and pop culture references are familiar to the target audience and serve as a hook that needs to support no more than a handful of points each. Then again, part of the message is: See what you can do with these tools.1 The novelty effect of the style adds a layer of information that goes beyond the content.

That kind of hook is something you may want to consider when your presentation has to compete for attention. Standing out can be a means in itself if you need people to remember just one key piece of information and want to give them an item they can readily evoke and talk about when there is a break in between sessions. Nancy Duarte calls this technique the STAR moment. Give your audience something they’ll always remember, or at least something to talk about for the day, because that’s where audience retention is really kicking in.

In other scenarios the wow-factor can be counterproductive. When you need not vie for attention, giving your audience just one thing to talk about by virtue of a super salient feature in your presentation (like the style) actually takes away attention from the kind of information you could and probably should be conveying instead. Attention is a finite resource. Your job, as the presenter, is to manage it to the benefit of your audience.

My one final piece of advice on the matter of style: Never let the message that you took the effort to shine up your presentation outshine the message of your presentation.

  1. And if we’re completely honest, it’s: Look what I can do. But if you’re willing to invest the time, so can you. If you’d rather spend the money, I’m there for you. ↩︎

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