Be Memorable: How to Craft your Presentation

March 30, 2017
Karen Appold

Treat your talk like a mystery. “Present results so that each one clarifies the mystery and holds the audience’s focus as the presentation concludes.”

Keep these tips in mind when writing a script and adding imagery.

An engaged audience is a captive audience. For Salman Azhar, MD, regional director, Stroke Services, Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, New York, NY, the key to keeping neurologists engaged during a presentation is to tell a story from beginning to end. He also recommends starting a talk by stating why it matters to the audience, their patients, and the neurology field.

When planning a talk, it’s also important to consider your audience and contemplate what they prefer or appreciate in a learning session (e.g., an opportunity to challenge their thinking or a chance to hear highlights of new research), says Erika Garms, PhD, consultant, speaker, and author of “The Brain-Friendly Workplace,” and CEO of WorkingSmarts, Minneapolis, MN.

She also advises distilling content down to three or four key big ideas. “Your goal is to inspire, spark, teach, persuade, convince, and be memorable,” Dr. Garms says. “You will not be memorable if you are the stand-up equivalent of a textbook.”

Using visual aids

Once you finalized the key big ideas, you can develop visual aids. These might include PowerPoint slides, a flip chart, index cards, handouts, or other tools. If you use slides, Dr. Azhar recommends these tips:

• Do not over populate a slide.

• When you have finished preparing the slides, delete a lot of them and then delete more.

• When possible, use graphics instead of words.

• Don’t use a graphic if it requires more than a few seconds of explanation.

• Use the same format and color layout for all slides.

• Do not use black and white slides.

During a presentation, connect data-rich slides with takeaways that continue the storyline, Dr. Azhar says. For example, if you’re giving a presentation on stroke thrombectomies, each slide about a study on stroke thrombectomies will add a layer to the audience’s knowledge about treatment efficacy or patient selection.

The key, Dr. Azhar says, is to provide enough detail and bring the presentation alive with specific examples. If presenting original research, treat the presentation like a mystery. “Describe the search method with clarity, without resorting to jargon,” he says. “Talk about the demographics. Compare placebo and treatment arms, but also explain incidence of disease in the study compared to the general population. Present results so that each one clarifies the mystery and holds the audience’s focus as the presentation concludes.”

Dr. Garms advises having a question and answer session before your closing. “While it’s a common practice to have this at the end, it is not what professional speakers do-and for good reason,” she says. “In order to make your final points clear, memorable, and sometimes to carefully recast an issue so it’s remembered the way you wanted it to be, the last word should be your own. Therefore, you should build in a question and answer time (if you’re doing one) a few minutes before your closing.”

End a presentation by rehashing the results; it’s fine if it’s anticlimactic. “Instead, try to take the audience to the conclusion that you as an expert think is the most significant idea that arises out of your talk,” Dr. Azhar says.