Expression - Presentations

Make Your Message Vivid to Make It Stick

Sticky details can make your message more convincing

Which do you think is more likely, that you might be killed by a shark attack or by a falling airplane part?

Most people guess shark attack, but you are 30 times more likely to be struck by a stray bolt from the blue than to be viciously torn apart in the blood-tinged surf by rows of razor sharp teeth.[1]

People overestimate the odds of something happening because they are more vividly brought to mind when the question is asked. One reason we call rare events to mind more easily is that by definition rare events are what make the news. That’s why we’re much more conscientious about locking our doors when we’ve read about a recent burglary in the neighborhood.

The availability heuristic,  and its subset, vividness, simply means that we place a greater likelihood on events or situations that we can more easily imagine. In short, if we can easily remember something, it is more likely to influence our decision.

Here’s another example to reinforce the point. Researchers studied the effects of vivid details on mock jury trials. In one drunk-driving case, unhealthy the prosecutor had to convince the jury that the defendant was impaired based on circumstantial evidence.

In one version, the testimony said:

“On his way out the door, Sanders staggered against a serving table, knocking a bowl to the floor.”

A second version went this way,

“On his way out the door, Sanders staggered against a serving table, knocking a bowl of guacamole dip to the floor and splattering guacamole on the white shag carpet.”

When the subjects of the experiment judged the cases immediately after reading the testimony, there was no significant difference between the two versions. However, when they had to judge the cases two days after having read the evidence, they were much more likely to find the defendant guilty.

What does this have to do with selling and presentations?

One of the most important tasks of anybody trying to persuade another is to make sure that their message is recalled when it comes time for the other person to make a decision and act on the information provided. If you’re a salesperson, you may meet with an influencer who then has to take your information to the decision makers. Will they remember your great points two days later?

So, if you’re making a presentation and you want people to remember the benefits of your solution, find ways to express those benefits so that they will be recalled when needed.

How to make your presentations more vivid

Vivid details and style: You don’t want to get carried away with it, but as you can see it helps to have one or two vivid details in your explanations. “Our security is like being guarded by a pitbull with a bulletproof vest and an Uzi.”

Concreteness: Concrete words can be pictured in the mind. Try to make abstract concepts real. For example, instead of saying your solution “improves productivity”, tell them that Chris in Accounting can now get that report on your desk by Tuesday morning instead of Wednesday afternoon.

Stories: Among the many excellent reasons to use stories is that they are much more easily remembered, especially if they have one or two vivid or unusual details.

Analogies: Hitch your bland explanation to a more exciting analogy. Our performance advantage is like the difference between Superman and Mr. Magoo.

Pictures: Pictures are tremendous vehicles to make your ideas vivid, but try to use pictures that have some impact and that they haven’t seen many times before.

Try some of these ideas and your sales pitches will be as sticky as a gecko on duct tape.


[1] I first found this factoid in the Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, by Scott Plous, and also in this article. Neither one of these constitutes actual proof, of course, but the idea remains the same. Besides, most people will remember the fact long after they have forgotten this footnote—and that’s the whole point of this article.

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