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Making Your Message Memorable

Once you have determined the message you wish your presentation to convey, everything else is about getting people to listen to the message, remember it and act on it.

Lets try an experiment – think back for a moment about the ten best lessons you had at school, or college.  The really memorable ones.  The ones that stuck with you for life.  Perhaps you might want to list the lessons down, what you learned, why you remember them.  Now think back to 10 films you enjoyed.  Don’t just think of recent films, think of films you watched as a child.  Remember who the key characters were.  Think about the plot.  Was there message that the film was trying to convey?

I bet – unless you happen to absolutely hate the cinema… in wich case, think about 10 books that you love and try again… that you found it easier to remember ten films, in quite a lot of detail, than you did to remember 10 lectures or lessons.  I bet also that the ten lectures or lessons you remembered were absolutely outstanding for one reason or other, whereas some of the ten films might have been fairly run of the mill.  I also bet you have probably spent more of your life in lectures and lessons than you have in the cinema – you had far more things to choose from.

So why was it easier to remember the films?

The answer is simple – film makes put all of their effort into grabbing you into the film, keeping hold of your interest, and taking you with them all the way to the conclusion.  Films are expensive to make.  If a movie maker loses his audiences attention before the big finish – if they start drifting off, or worse, walking out – then he has made a very expensive mistake.

The Hollywood studios try to avoid expensive mistakes.  So they follow tried and trusted rules which keep hold of your attention.  These are rules which you can choose to apply to your presentations – they are rules which, if you follow this framework, you will find easy to apply to almost any subject.

There is nothing new about these rules.  In fact, thats sort of the point.  The rules I’m going to teach you have been used for thousands of years – six thousand at least – all the way back to the first story ever written (The Epic of Gilgamesh).  Because the rules are the rules which have underlay storytelling throughout recorded human history.

Lots of people have tried to work out what the rules of a good story are.  We’re going to follow the same rules that the Hollywood studios use.  For these rules, we go back to a historian and anthropologist, Joseph Campbell.  Campbell specialised in the study of myths and legends.  By collecting a vast range of myths and legends from cultures all over the world, Campbell tried to tease out the common characteristics of each story – the thing he described as the Meta-Myth.  Campbell’s work became famous.  But it wasn’t Campbell who convinced hollywood.  For that we need to look at another studio executive – Christopher Vogel.  Vogel was a fan of Campbells, and noticed that the meta-myth which Campbell identified wasn’t just there in the ancient stories of cultures gone.  The same structures were there in the films which were topping the box office charts.  Moreover, Vogel noticed that many of the films which were failing to do as well were missing some of the key elements that Campbell had identified.  Vogel realised he didn’t just have an interesting pan-cultural anthropological theory on his hands, he also had a blueprint for box office success.  He wrote a memo about it, which quickly became widely circulated amongst the Hollywood studios, and which you can see influencing much of modern cinema.

Joseph Campbell published his meta-myth theory in his book “The Hero’s Journey”

Christopher Vogel extended his memo into a screenwriting book “The Writer’s Journey”

Both books are well worth reading.

But you don’t need to read them in order to improve your presentation preparation skills.  In the articles which follow, I shall be describing how to use the meta-myth story structure to take the dry facts, figures and calls to action and turn them into a story – into something which will worm its way into your listener’s minds, and stay with them long after they leave your presentation.