The Magic Number 3: How to Make Your Points Stick in Presentations and Speeches

How to Make Your Points Stick in Presentations and Speeches

Transform your next presentation from forgettable to unforgettable by understanding how memory works. Discover key strategies backed by cognitive psychology to make your points resonate and stick.

Nov 2023

Ever wondered why some speeches are unforgettable, while others fade from memory almost instantly? It's not just about the content—it's about how our brains are wired to remember information. Dive into the world of cognitive psychology and learn the secrets of making your points memorable.

This piece explores the intersection of cognitive psychology and communication, offering practical strategies to enhance audience engagement and retention in various settings where effective communication is crucial.


Effective communication in business is often the bridge between a memorable presentation and one that is easily forgotten. A key aspect of this lies in understanding how our brains process and retain information.

The Power of Three

Steve Jobs' iconic iPhone launch hinged on presenting the iPhone as a three-in-one device. This aligns with George Miller's 1956 study suggesting that the average person can hold about 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory. In business communication, focusing on 3 to 5 key points maximizes impact and recall.

Chunking: Simplifying Complexity

Chunking involves organizing information into meaningful groups. In business, this could mean breaking down a complex strategy into market analysis, competitive strategy, and implementation phases. This method enhances memory retention by aligning with our brain's pattern recognition capabilities.

Repetition and Reinforcement

Repetition strengthens memory recall. In business, this could involve restating the main objective in various forms, such as case studies or key phrases, to cement the core message. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech exemplifies the power of repetition in reinforcing a message.

Primacy and Recency Effects

The primacy and recency effects suggest people remember the first and last items in a series. In presentations, impactful opening statements and strong closing remarks are essential. This approach can be seen in Google’s I/O keynote addresses, which typically begin and end with significant announcements.

Engagement and Relevance

Audience engagement significantly enhances memory retention. Incorporating interactive elements, relatable examples, and addressing the audience's needs makes the information more memorable. Oprah Winfrey's Harvard Commencement Speech, which included personal stories and relatable advice, exemplifies this approach.

Cognitive Load: Balancing Simplicity and Clarity

Cognitive load theory highlights the importance of simplicity in communication. Avoiding jargon and using visual aids to simplify complex ideas can make a business presentation more digestible and memorable. Elon Musk's presentations, known for their clarity and simplicity, demonstrate this principle effectively.

Understanding Individual Differences

Recognizing and accommodating individual differences in memory capabilities and interests is vital for effective communication. This is particularly important in diverse settings, where tailoring content to varied backgrounds and knowledge levels can enhance understanding and engagement.


By applying these principles from cognitive psychology, you can transform your presentations and speeches from forgettable to impactful, ensuring your audience not only hears but remembers your message.

Nov 2023
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