Making it stick: Introduction

This is Part 1 of a seven-part series on making speeches and presentations memorable.  It is based on the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

Good speakers are memorable.  Come to think of it, bad speakers are also memorable, albeit for different reasons.

Being memorable, making our message resonate with our audiences and stay with them – that is the Holy Grail of public speaking. Whether we are trying to inspire nations or a high school basketball team; whether we are trying to raise millions in venture capital or sell a few products at a local trade show; whether we are trying to persuade management to increase our department’s funding or trying to persuade our teenagers to clean their rooms (if you have figured this last one out, please contact me!) – the one common objective is that we want our messages to be remembered.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. Every day, our attention is pulled in thousands (yes, thousands) of directions by TV, radio, email, phone calls, meetings, advertisements, families, friends, colleagues, etc., etc., etc.

A German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus studied memory and developed, among other things, what is known as the Forgetting Curve. Essentially, the Forgetting Curve shows the declining rate at which we retain information after hearing it. Ebbinghaus found that after only 20 minutes, we have forgotten almost 42% of what we have heard!  After one hour, we have forgotten almost 56%.  After one day we have forgotten 66% and after one week almost 75%.

Pretty grim statistics.  And keep in mind that Ebbinghaus passed away in 1909, long before the advent of personal computers, the Internet, the Blackberry and Reality TV.  How do we compete when it is our turn to speak? We are like salmon swimming upstream, fighting against rapids, rocks and predators.

Made to Stick

Fortunately, there are ways to make our messages memorable, and that is what this seven-part series is all about.  The basis of this series is a terrific book that I highly recommend: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

The Heaths begin by asking two questions: Why do some ideas thrive while others die?  And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas?  They then proceed to answer them.

Drawing on research and examples from all walks of life, the Heaths have found that “sticky” messages possess six qualities.  They are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and come with Stories: SUCCESs”.

“Made to Stick” is interesting, entertaining and full of ideas on how we can make our messages memorable. A comprehensive analysis of everything in the book is beyond the scope of this blog. However, over the next six posts, I will examine each of the Heaths’ indicia of “stickiness”. My hope is that this series will stimulate your thinking about ways in which to make your next speech or presentation compelling, memorable and, well, stickier.

For the next post in the series, please click here.

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  1. Do you know if people remember better/longer if it’s something they’ve read versus something they’ve heard? In other words, how effective are visual aids in making a talk memorable?

    1. Thanks for the question Olive.
      Different people have different learning preferences. However, on the whole, I think that well chosen visuals will greatly improve the chances that your audience will remember the message. In his book, “Presentation Zen”, Garr Reynolds talks about the “picture superiority effect” which states that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are exposed to the information for a limited time. And using pictures and words together will reinforce your message. Think back to the last PowerPoint you saw that was just slide after slide of bullet points and then compare it with a PowerPoint that had pictures (if you were ever fortunate enough to come across such a rare beast!). Which do you remember best?
      If you are interested in pursuing this issue, I would also suggest that you have a look at Ned Herrmann’s “Whole Brain Model”. There are lots of sites on the Web that discuss it in detail. Herrmann found that there are four quadrants in the brain: logical, sequential, interpersonal and intuitive. Everyone has a preference for the way in which they think and learn. Thus, for example, some people will like lots of data and statistics while others will prefer personal stories. It is a fascinating topic and one that provides great insights into preparing a presentation that suits all learning preferences.
      I hope that this helps. Thanks for following my blog.

    1. Thanks, Melissa! Mea culpa. I have had 5 speaking engagements this week and the blog has suffered accordingly. I will make up for it soon. Best of luck with the course. That you will ace it, I have no doubt. John

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International