A powerful presentation, by definition, is one that drives the audience to make a decision. Creating such presentations was difficult in the past, but today it's become almost impossible, unless you know the trick I'm about to share.

In order for a presentation to drive a decision, the audience must remember 1) what decision you want made, and 2) why that decision is important. Unfortunately, audiences have an increasing tendency to forget most of what's presented to them.

In 2008, a study of university lectures revealed that audiences retained only 15 percent of a typical PowerPoint presentation. And that was before everyone had smartphones.

Today's audiences largely consist of people constantly checking their phones as well as texting and emailing throughout the meeting. This further reduces both attention and retention and therefore the ability of a presentation to drive a decision.

If you're the boss, of course, you can simply order everyone to turn off their phones, but that's a bit like withholding drugs from addicts. Their attention will still be elsewhere.

As a rule of thumb, you can expect the typical audience to retain about 5 percent of your presentation. How can you ensure it's the right 5 percent?

The easiest way to ensure retention is to insert verbal and visual "flags" to the parts of your presentation that drive toward the decision you want made.

Verbal flags.

There are two types of verbal flag: 1) front and 2) back.

A front flag precedes a statement and identifies it as important. Examples:

  • "If you remember anything from this presentation, it should be this:"
  • "Let me make one thing perfectly clear:"
  • "The most important thing for you remember is:"

To be the most effective, front flags should be delivered more slowly than your usual speaking tempo. The change in tempo captures the audience's attention so that the flag can alert their brains that they're about to hear something worth retaining.

A back flag is a question that follows a statement in order to reinforce its importance. Examples:

  • "Does that make sense?"
  • "Are you with me here?"
  • "Are you following?"

My personal favorite back flag is the one that the Robert Shaw character used in the movie The Sting: "Ya get me?"

Visual flags.

There are two types of visual flag: 1) slide-based and 2) movement-based.

A slide-based flag consists of an image and/or font choice that is a dramatic departure from the rest of the presentation.

For example, suppose the "why" of the decision to be made is a projected drop in revenue. You might flag that "why" by putting a thick red circle around a point in the graph showing your revenue projection.

For example, you might jab your index finger forward with each word as you say "one thing perfectly clear." Or you might hold your open hands outward and when you're delivering the crucial fact or call-to-action.

If you really want an audience to remember something, you combine all four flags. This will make your important point memorable and actionable even if audience members are engaged with their phones.

Do this for the "what decision I want made" and "why this decision is important" segment of your presentation, and your presentation will both be remembered and acted upon.