How to Create a Sticky Presentation

How do you create a presentation that actually sticks with your listeners long after you’ve finished speaking? In order to know how to make information “sticky,” we first have to understand how memory works.

Author of The Source for Learning & Memory Strategies, Regina Richards shares this illustration of the memory process.

The picture gives us a good idea of how memory works. But it also presents quite the challenge. If our presentations are the sensory input, how do we get our information past the filtering mechanisms of our listeners’ brains? Researchers have identified two key concepts that can lead to retention: visibility and meaningfulness.


In order for your content to be sticky, the audience needs to be able to “see” your concept. The way that you make this happen is by using concrete words with sensory information. Some words have high imagery value. In other words, you can picture them. These are words like “dress” and “juggler” and “flower.” Other words have low imagery value. They are more abstract. Words like “duty” and “economy” and “necessity” aren’t easy to picture.

Timothy Bender of Missouri State University put together an exercise replicating the original memory research completed by Paivio, Smythe, & Yuille in 1968. Click here to learn more about how word imagery affects memory. Then, try the memory test yourself. What you’ll probably find is that you can remember the words you were able to picture. This replicates the original research findings.

This means we need to find ways to make our concepts visible to our audience members. One way to do this is to examine your content by sections. Ask yourself: What parts of this can my audience picture in their minds? You don’t want to talk for too long without giving the audience something they can see. This may mean breaking up abstract concepts with concrete stories or changing the language that you use to make it more accessible.


The other concept you’ll want to use to create sticky content is meaningfulness. Look back at Richard’s diagram of the memory process. Those filters serve an important purpose. They keep our brains from being overwhelmed by information that we don’t need. One of the main reasons information ends up in the trash can is that it doesn’t mean anything to us. Richards says, “To establish a more durable memory, we need to prevent incoming information from being ‘dumped.’ We accomplish this by associating it meaningfully with knowledge that already exists.”

So as speakers, we have to keep reminding our audience what the information means for them. And we have to relate it to their everyday lives. Presentation expert Jerry Weissman calls this the “WIIFY” of a presentation—the “what’s in it for you?” concept. He says presenters need to have “a relentless focus on what’s in it for your audience.” Without this relentless focus, the information you are presenting will quickly end up discarded and forgotten.

If we make our presentation content both visible and meaningful, we can create sticky presentations.

At Ethos3, we believe all presentations should be memorable and meaningful. Find out how we can help.


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