Want Your Association Programs to be Unforgettable? Techniques for Giving Memorable Talk

Of course, you want your members to give terrific presentations and unforgettable talks. Here’s how to help them.

Their messages, no matter how important, will not be remembered if the speaker doesn’t have a sound STRUCTURE and make an EMOTIONAL CONNECTION.


Can they write the premise or objective of their talk in one sentence? If not, the chances are that their thinking isn’t clear enough for the audience to understand their purpose. And if audiences have a hard time understanding, they will probably not grasp the message. They may be dazzled by pizzazz and laugh at the stories, but little will stay with them afterwards.

The next structural imperative is to use statements that make the audience ask “How?” or “Why?” For example, during a talk on “Selling Yourself and Your Ideas to Upper Management,” I say just that: “Everyone in your position can sell themselves and their ideas to upper management.” Immediately, my audience is asking themselves, “HOW can I do that?” Or, for another group, I might say, “Every manager needs to develop employees who can think entrepreneurially.” And the managers are all asking themselves, “WHY on earth do I need to do that?”

The answers to these questions, the How’s or Why’s, become the “Points of Wisdom” in the speech. These points are the rationales for the speaker’s premise or objective. A 30-minute presentation should contain about three, each illustrated by stories, examples, suggestions, practical advice, or recommendations.

Finally, your members need to frame their premise and Points of Wisdom with an attention-getting opening and a memorable closing. For example, I helped a neighbor, scientist Mike Powell, with a speech he was delivering to a general audience. Most of us don’t know what it is like to be a scientist, so I suggested he tell the audience. Mike captured everyone’s attention by saying:

“Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle in a snowstorm at night–you don’t have all the pieces–and you don’t have the picture to work from.”

Mike’s speech was about the complexities of DNA. To help a lay audience understand, he used another analogy. “Imagine you have a store,” he said, “and a thief runs in and grabs something off the shelf. He gets away from you, but he drops his wallet, leaving his identification behind. The DNA in someone’s blood and sweat and skin particles is also identification–”

The last thirty seconds of any speech must send people out energized and fulfilled. Suggest to your members that they ask for questions before the close so their closing message isn’t diffused. The finish should be inspirational, supporting the theme, and if possible, creating a “circle” with the opening.

My scientist friend Mike closed by saying, “At the beginning of my talk, I told you of the frustration of being a scientist. Many people ask, ‘So why do you do it?'” Then Mike told them about the final speaker at a medical conference he attended. She walked to the lectern and said, “I am a 32-year-old wife and mother of two. I have AIDS. Please work fast.” Mike received a standing ovation for his speech. Even more important, several years later the audience still remembers what he said and can actually quote him!


How your members deliver their material has a lot to do with the enjoyment level of the audience. When audiences have a good time, they’re more likely to like the speaker and the speaker’s ideas. Of course, everyone WANTS the audience to like them. Here are some tips you can share for winning over an audience.

* Make eye contact. For a small audience, look at individuals for five seconds or the length of a complete sentence. For large groups, divide attention equally between those in the front rows and the people in the back.

* Develop the ability to tell memorable stories–dramatic or funny. Fledgling speakers often bring me sheets of statistics that they want to talk about. “Why should the audience care about all those facts and figures?” I ask, “Where is that currency of human contact, the STORY?” Then we set about turning the numbing data into vivid descriptions of what the numbers MEAN. Remember, few can resist a good story, well told, a story they can “see.” Make the supports vivid and memorable. People probably won’t remember exactly what was said, but they’ll remember the images the words created in their minds.

* Increase the I-You ratio. Include the audience, even when talking about personal experiences. An “I” sentence would be: “When I was growing up, my father gave me this advice.” An “I-You” sentence would be: “I don’t know what advice your father gave YOU growing up, but mine always said –” As with Mike’s talk, ‘imagine’ is a good word to involve your audience.

Audiences are more likely to act on what they remember. To help your association members deliver memorable messages, guide them in these basics: connect with the audience, both intellectually with clear content and emotionally by using good eye-contact, memorable stories, and a high I-You ratio. Give your members the boost they need to make themselves and their ideas unforgettable.