When you give a presentation, the whole point is for your audience to walk away having internalized something important (hint: your mission). But despite such a clear objective, research shows that the vast majority of speakers miss the mark with their talks. According to a Yale study, audience members remember

  • 60 percent of your presentation after 20 minutes
  • 40 percent of your presentation within half a day
  • 10 percent within a week

These results aren't an accident. In her book, Secrets of Successful Speakers, Lilly Walters says people don't remember the content of talks for three major reasons.

1. Terminology

Over time, you learn specific vocabulary related to what you're presenting about. To you, that vocabulary can seem easy and natural. But audience members, who aren't necessarily familiar with those terms, will struggle to understand them and follow your points. That's one of the big reasons why experts constantly tell speakers to get jargon out of their speeches. But simplifying only business words and phrases isn't enough. You have to think about local terms, too, tailoring what you're saying based on where you are.

2. Negative reaction to not understanding

Whether it's the terms you use or because you've overestimated the topic foundation your audience has, people don't feel good when they're not following and connecting with you. They feel intimidated. Stupid. Incapable. Those feelings very quickly can turn into resentment against you. The minute you undermine their sense of intelligence, they don't feel secure anymore, and you've become a threat they no longer want to tolerate.

3. Preoccupation

Life is fast. Your audience members are going to have a million other things on their minds when they sit down in their seats for you. Subsequently, they might not truly realize just how important what you have to say is until the problem you're talking about outweighs the emotional or practical issues they're currently having. You have to convince them that your topic matters, and to do that, you have to show, not just tell.

So what's the solution?

When it comes to terminology and the negative reactions that come with it, there are a lot of simple tips that can improve your effect. For example,

  • Read local publications or listen to/watch local broadcasts.
  • Have the person who's arranged your presentation read or listen to it ahead of time to identify areas of potential disconnection.
  • Talk to people who have presented for your audience before.
  • Imagine what you'd say if giving the presentation to kids--you'll force yourself to put your content into more accessible layman's terms.

The preoccupation is harder to solve. For that, Walters says, you have to pay attention to Maslow's hierarchy and figure out what needs or wants the audience members have--people won't pay attention to higher level content if there's something more basic underneath they're looking for. Connect your topic in some way to those needs and wants, adjusting it to where they are in the hierarchy, and your presentation will click. Doing this likely will take a decent amount of research on your part. You might work for days, weeks or even months to hone what you say. But don't skip it. Making the extra effort can mean the difference between having no influence and coming across like one of the giants of your industry.