On my first day of journalism school, instructors taught me to find the “wow” in a story: the surprise that makes people pay attention.
I remembered that tip years later when I wrote The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder intentionally designed a wow moment in every major product launch, many of which were products he used like props in a magic show.
In 2001, Jobs could have simply introduced the first iPod by showing photos of the gadget. Instead, Jobs reached into the small pocket of his jeans, took out an iPod, and said, “It’s like carrying 1,000 songs in your pocket.”
Steve Jobs intuitively understood something that you can use to mesmerize your audience. The key is to give them something to remember. Whether you’re delivering a presentation virtually or in person, your listeners will not recall every word you say. They’ll remember moments.
Great communicators intentionally design memorable moments by using some of the following tactics.
1. Tell stories.
Humans are wired to pay attention to stories, so tell more of them. Personal stories are among the most impactful. There’s a reason why Steve Jobs’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford University is considered so iconic that CNN asked me to analyze it.
Jobs told three personal stories from his life. Many people remember Jobs’s story about taking a calligraphy course in college, despite not knowing what he’d use it for. Years later, Jobs applied what he had learned to build the Macintosh, the computer that revolutionized desktop publishing with fancy fonts.
Share personal stories that are relevant to the theme of your presentation.
2. Offer surprising statistics.
Many science journalists who cover complex topics like climate change are trained to put data into context to catch the readers’ attention.
For example, scientists announced in August that greenhouse gas emissions hit their highest level ever. But writers know that a reader’s eyes will glaze over without a startling statistic that puts the event into context. So writers picked up on one number: The concentration of gas in the atmosphere that causes climate change is the highest it’s been in 800,000 years.
Find one number that grabs your audience’s attention.
3. Create analogies.
Our brains are wired for story and for metaphor. We compare unfamiliar things to things that we know.
Billionaire Warren Buffett is an expert at using analogies to make complex financial topics easy to understand. One of Buffett’s most famous quotes is about how he picks winning companies: “I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable moats.”
A well-chosen analogy speaks volumes.
4. Plan surprise reveals.
Sometimes a wow moment is as easy as packaging content creatively to reveal a surprise.
In 2007, Steve Jobs announced that Apple was introducing “three new products”: a new iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. He repeated the list several times. Finally, he said, “Aren’t you getting it? These are not three devices. This is one device and we call it the iPhone.”
Your message doesn’t have to change; just change the way you express it.
5. Show photos, images, and videos.
We remember pictures and images better than we remember words. In the neuroscience of persuasion, this phenomenon is called the “picture superiority effect.” Use it to your advantage.
For example, in my presentations, I incorporate a lot of video in the form of short clips from an interview I’ve conducted with a famous entrepreneur or CEO. When I play the video, I can tell that everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen. You will lose your audience’s attention if your presentation slides look too much alike. Break it up with photos or videos.
Above all, people do not pay attention to boring things. Give your audience something to remember, like a story or a surprise they didn’t expect.