Master Your Message Blog

Why a Presentation Theme Is Critically Important

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking, "I Have a Dream"The key to having impact with your persuasive presentation is practicing the Rule of One.

The rule of one is simple. If your presentation is about more than one thing, you’re wasting your time. Nobody will ever remember what it was about. I’m serious!

Let’s say you did a half-hour presentation starting at five o’clock in the afternoon. You finish at 5:30. Surveys show that at 6 o’clock, a half hour after you’ve finished, your audience will remember a mere 50% of your content.

Next morning … when you get to the office, ask around and you’ll find that most remember 25%. A week later, if you were to do the same survey, the result would be 10%.

This is a great example of why the phrase “Less is More” is some important.

So, knowing that your audience will remember 10% a week later, we’d better make sure they remember the most important thing! And bingo! – that’s what your speech should be about. It needs to be your main point and your theme should reinforce it. In fact, your theme should BE your central point. Everything else should support it. If something doesn’t, stick it in another speech!

Here’s another way of looking at it.

In most situations where I speak, I know that the people in the audience have a ton of things on their mind. They’re thinking about the last text message they got, or what’s happening for dinner tonight, or the deadline they have to take care of AS SOON AS they get back to the office. I have to break through all of that and make sure I have enough of an impact that they actually do, or consider doing, the one thing I’m going to ask them to do.

If there’s any confusion at the end of your talk, guess what? Nothing will happen. It will all be forgotten (or almost all of it – after all, I gave you the numbers earlier).

Here’s an example from history – Martin Luther King. His speech in 1967. Most of us remember the title – that’s right, “I Have a Dream.” But we don’t remember much else. And why is that? Repetition had a lot to do with it. That line was the main theme and Dr. King said it 8 times within that speech. We call that a “mantra.” We remember the title and Dr. King to this day.

That’s the importance of having a theme, the importance of repetition and the importance of the Rule of One. If you want to be memorable, make your presentation about one thing and one thing only. And make sure to repeat it several times.

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