You may be a world-renowned medical expert and fill rooms with colleagues eager to hear from you, but your peers will only use the information you present if you make it memorable, and, no, that isn’t done with a slick PowerPoint Presentation.

Step One: Knowing what will get their attention

The first step is for you to stop thinking of yourself as a presenter or speaker and start thinking of yourself as an educator. That means you need to become less concerned with the details of your content and more concerned with the your audience members actually see, hear, and remember.

Introducing Sensory Memory…

Sensory memory is one of three memory components that we’ll discuss here on the blog. Working memory and long-term memory come next. Bur for now, let’s dive into this underused concept of sensory memory.

As sensory signals arrive in the brain, the signals stimulate the brain to test for patterns. Any auditory or visual pattern that matches one already in “storage” immediately gets our attention.  Remember the last time you heard your name mentioned in a conversation across the room at a party.

The sounds match what the brain has heard before and will “guess” what comes next based on past experience.  Correct guesses stimulate the brain to keep guessing, checking stored patterns in other higher brain areas. Speech patterns are recognized into words and word patterns are organized into meaningful communications.  Visual input is also checked for patterns; do you see the Dalmatian in the picture?

If the brain guesses wrong the prediction and recognition stops, and the new sensory stimulation may be ignored or discarded. Another way to think about it…if we don’t share a person’s language, we may recognize the sound of their voice, but cannot make sense of the words they are saying so we forget it.  If the picture is too busy, we may lose the message in the mess!

How Sensory Memory Applies to Your Presentation

Audiences will reject what they don’t recognize. Too much guessing frustrates a learner and inhibits learning. From the very beginning of a presentation, make everything you show and say clear and as familiar as possible, and tailor your talk to use words and images that your audience will recognize. If you’re not sure, take a moment to “call out” the word or picture and make sure the audience sees and hears what they need to.