Did my audience remember the key message in my presentation?

Brain rule #3: Wiring

Key message

When shown the same presentation and quizzed afterwards, members of the same audience often recall a different key message.  This is not good news for presenters who are hoping that their audience will all come away with the same key message! Indeed, most presenters wrongly assume their audience will not only recall their main message, but indeed all of the information presented to them. It just doesn’t happen – for many reasons, some of which are:

1) Audiences are fighting a million internal distractions. Their to-do list. Their feelings, memories and stresses. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention.

3) Likewise, external distractions also compete for our attention – sights, sounds, smells, and things happening around us that may or may not be coming from your presentation (animation for example can be distracting, as well as a good way of getting attention).

2) Audiences pay more attention if the presentation is relevant to them. So we need to get their interest as early as possible. If you don’t, they’ll switch off and be harder to win back.

4) Each person has their own unique brain wiring – so their interpretation of your information (and the way you have presented it) will be slightly different for each person.

How can we help audiences to recall our key message?

In an ideal world, we would tailor our presentations for each and every member of our audience. Since that’s not quite going to happen, we can at least be practical with these 3 other options:

  1. Create an interactive PowerPoint deck which allows you to adapt the flow of the presentation to any questions from the room. PowerPoint has great hyperlinking abilities (essentially replicating a website’s navigation). You click, you go to that page. You can focus on a particular direction, or area of interest specific to the group you are presenting to. More and more presenters are choosing this non-linear option.
  2. Give your presentation a clear structure to bring home your key message. The take aways for your audience need to be up front, repeated, and simple. One of the presentation structures we like best was developed by Cliff Atkinson in Beyond Bullet Points. In summary: establish relevance and context right at the start. Next, deliver your presentation’s key message. Right up front. Use the remaining slides to focus on proving those key messages. This works to reinforce and drum home your points. It also gives meaning to your meanderings and tangents, or keeps you on track!
  3. You must repeat your key message frequently. Ideally as part of your structure. But however you do it: repeat it.


If you do one or all of the above – those different brains with their different wirings will be more likely to all come out with the same conclusion. Your key message: remembered!