We live in a world that values storytellers. Masterful presenters. TEDx speakers.

It's only natural that we want to imitate the best orators. It's a worthy aspiration. But instead of imitating our heroes, we usually end up boring our audience instead.

The reason for this is simple: We spend too much time trying to be novel and not enough time trying to be familiar, which ends up confusing the audience.

That's according to a recent research study published in Psychological Science. What did they find that makes them come to this conclusion?

  1. Presenters think audiences only want to hear the novel.
  2. Audiences think they only want to hear the novel.
  3. Audiences respond better to the familiar, with a sprinkling of novelty.
  4. Presenters confuse audiences by trying to be novel only.


For a speech to be effective, it must be clear and connect with the audience on an emotional level. Being novel alone doesn't do that. What does?

Building first upon familiar experiences, then adding in novelty.

A Good Presenter Uses the Familiar to Fill in the Gaps

No speaker has unlimited time (thank heavens in most cases!).

Because of that, speakers have to leave out pieces of information. That requires the audience to fill in the gaps on their own to make meaning of what they're hearing.

And the best way for humans to bridge the information gap? Through familiar or shared experiences.

But aspiring presenters, wanting to be spectacular and novel like their heroes, think they need to cut out all familiarity from their presentation (that's what the audience wants, right?). That makes it hard for the audience to fill in the blanks.

Before long the audience will become confused, lost, and bored to tears.

A Good Presenter Uses the Familiar to Invoke Emotion

For a presentation to be memorable requires an emotional connection to the message. Most speakers overestimate their communication ability. They especially overestimate their ability to draw out the varied emotions of an audience.

Luckily, there's a hack.

Every person attaches emotions to life's experiences. When you call upon a shared experience, you call upon the emotions attached to that familiar experience. Presto! Those emotions are now attached to your presentation.

Cut the familiar out, and you have nothing more than cold words uttered from a stage. No emotion. No connection. Snoozeville.


Go back and review a presentation of your favorite speaker. Look at how they drew on the familiar to draw you in. It's so natural you probably missed it, right?

Now you know the trick: Build on the familiar, sprinkle in some novelty, and it will surprise you how engaging your next presentation will be.