By Alastair Grant

We argue that if your audience cannot remember your key messages then your presentation has failed. It maybe the listener, if asked to comment, says:

“Well there was a lot of information but there was no message”

If it’s a competitive pitch you are making then this could be the reason for you losing the pitch. Simply put when the competitors are reviewed lack of memorable key points will cause you to be eliminated.

You may have handled the questions well and scored high in other areas but the assessors almost don’t want to admit they cannot recall your message, indicating they were not listening. So rather than admitting their failure they simply find a reason to throw you off the list!

Establishing your key points at the outset is an obvious start but the trick then is to make them stick in people’s minds. We have introduced the buzzword STICKIES in our workshops to, umm … well er .. make the idea stick.

So what are Stickies? Stickies are a device to make points more memorable. This could be a brilliant PowerPoint illustration or verbal imagery. And here we introduce Daisy

‘Daisy’ is one step on a conceptual ladder produced by Professor Hayakawa back in the 1960s called the ladder of abstraction. Starting at the bottom of this ladder, we have the simple idea of a black and white cow called ‘Daisy’. (Daisy is a typical name for an English cow – in France Marguerite seems the favoured one!).

No doubt you have an image of her in your mind already. Now if you add more Daisies, we have to use a more abstract term – ‘Cows’ but again the picture in our minds is quite clear. Moving one step higher, we add other types of animals to the group and again have to redefine our term as ‘Livestock’. It is at this stage that the images in people’s minds begin to differ.

Now, if we add plant, silos and buildings to this picture, we have to become more abstract again and talk about Farm Assets. Moving up to the final level and completing this picture, the easiest way to describe everything within it is to become extremely abstract and call it a “Wealth Creation Unit”. By this stage, everyone’s image is different and quite a lot of people lost it completely!

This last expression ‘Wealth Creation Unit’ is much like the messages we typically hear such as: “We must be more flexible and proactive” or, “We will empower our team” or, “Our plan will enhance synergy and motivate our group to be more focused on the bottom line” or, “We will produce a standard of customer service better than our customer expects”

Of course you have to use the abstract words and phrases that pervade your area. You may know them well but you cannot be sure that your audience is able to visualise them as well as you do. So the abstract idea must be reinforced, then and there, with a sticky example. Even if they are well used to the in-house jargon, stickles still help them to remember with greater clarity the point that you are making.

Wealth Creation Unit (WCU)
Farm assets

Alastair’s “Ladder of Abstraction”

So the trick is to produce a ‘Daisy’ that the listener can visualise in their minds.

For example, some of you will know my story of the Coke can. It starts like this:

This is not really how you want your aircraft skin to look..
This is not really how you want your aircraft skin to look..

“Imagine a Coke can in your hand. It is not very strong – you can flex the sides of the can – what you may not know is that the skin of our aircraft is only 4 times the thickness of this Coke can?”

The story continues from there. You may need to follow this with: “Now what this means to you is ….” or preceded by “Let me paint this picture . . .”

Verbal imagery is powerful but PowerPoint, if skilfully used, can be just as effective. A slide showing a graph of the rise in sales of aircraft over 30 years may be easier to remember than a verbal equivalent.

A simple application is make ideas more sticky by mentioning names and places. A large company makes radar spare parts for an airport would be much more sticky if it was changed to ‘Raytheon, based outside Edinburgh, is making radar spare parts for Heathrow Airport’
Once that has happened, the message will sink home and you have achieved one of your main goals – sticky messages that will be remembered.

Something of a sticky situation…