As speakers, we understand the importance of public speaking and when we are creating a speech we want to communicate an idea or a set of ideas in a way that our audience will be able to remember long after we are done speaking. As simple as this sounds, it turns out that it’s actually quite difficult to do. The good news is that a lot of very smart people have spent time studying this issue and they’ve come up with a number of different ways that we can make this happen.
It’s All About The Number 3
The human mind is a wonderful tool. It can do a lot of different things including remembering parts of a speech that it has heard. However, our brains can easily become overloaded if there is too much information presented to us in a speech. What this means is that as a speaker we need to limit how much information we share in a single speech.
Studies have been done to see how much information a person can remember. It turns out that the magic number seems to be 3. We can do a great job of getting our audience to remember what we’ve told them if we can take our idea and create a three-part list out of it. For some reason, lists of three items can be remembered by our audiences.
History is filled with examples of famous speakers who knew how to use lists of three. Think of Lincoln’s “Of the people, by the people, for the people. How about Julius Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered”. Or even Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”.
Contrast Helps The Memory
Just creating a list of three is not all that you can do to ensure that the point of your speech is both heard an understood. The one thing that you don’t want to do is to make all of the items on your list of three to be the same. If you do that, then you just might run into the problem that you’ve created a list that since each item is similar your audience might not be able to recall all three items.
The best way to solve this problem is to introduce some contrast. By this I mean that at least one of the items on your list has to be different from the other two. This contrast is what is going to help your audience to remember what you are telling them.
Examples of this are all over the place. John F. Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Neil Armstrong said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Finally, Shakespeare’s Hamlet says “To be, or not to be. That is the question”
What All Of This Means For You
As speakers we all want to be remembered, that’s one of the benefits of public speaking. In order to make this happen we need to realize that if we share too much information with our audience during a single speech, we’ll overload them and they’ll walk away not remembering what we shared with them.
In order to address this problem, speakers need to limit what they say to lists of three items. Studies have shown that 3 is a magic number: your audience will be able to remember a list that is this long. In order to make sure that they can recall all of the items that you’ve shared with them make sure that you work some contrast into your list.
Is it really asking too much to want our speeches to be remembered? Ultimately, it’s not your audience’s responsibility to remember what you’ve told them but rather it’s your responsibility to make sure that you deliver it in a way that they’ll be able to remember it. If you can get good at doing this, then you’ll have found the way to become a speaker that people are talking about long after your speech is over and done with.
Question For You: What should you do if you have more than 3 things that you want your audience to remember from your speech?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
I’m a bit hesitant about sharing this piece of information that I’ve stumbled across with you. It turns out that a long time ago (1885), researchers discovered that when you tell someone something, despite the importance of public speaking, 70% of them will forget what you told them within one day. It gets even worse: most of them will forget what you told them within hours of hearing it. It turns out that it doesn’t have to be this way. By using a few simple speaking techniques, you can boost your next audience’s ability to remember what you have told them.