The Power of Repetition

Welcome back!  Think back to the last speaker you heard.  Do you remember the message they gave?  What was the one thing that you remember distinctly about that speech?...

Welcome back!  Think back to the last speaker you heard.  Do you remember the message they gave?  What was the one thing that you remember distinctly about that speech?  If you couldn’t remember what that speaker was talking about, then they didn’t do a good enough job in sharing their message.  But if you did remember, then have you ever wondered how the speaker was able to get you to remember that point?  Most likely they repeated their key points a few times.  Repetition is such a simple concept yet so often overlooked in speaking.  We as speakers always underestimate the minds of our audience and assume they always know what we’re saying.  Yet the reality is that they always don’t know, don’t hear or don’t understand what we’ve just said and its our job to ensure that they do.

An acquaintance of mine once told me about a job he left after a few weeks because he couldn’t stand it anymore.  It was a sales trainer’s job that paid an obscene amount of money.  When I asked what the reason was for his woes, he replied that the students in his class kept asking questions about things he had just said.  That he had to use repetition over and over.  That they should understand what he’s saying and pay attention the first time around.

It took me by surprise as I’m so used to repetition and answer questions about things that were just said that I didn’t realize that other speakers might find that annoying.  I just found it to be “just part of the job”.  An essential part of the job.  But it got me thinking why was it necessary.  Here is what I found;

1) We need to understand the reason’s for having to repeat ourselves.   Too often, there are circumstances that are beyond our control.  That we can’t understand why but they happen.  Whether we like it or not, the minds our audience members will drift from time to time and they may not hear the point we just made.  Or what about when somebody gets a text message or decides to flip our their BlackBerry to check email?  Our audience members may be drawn to see what that person is doing next to them.  Worst yet, and I think this is the most cruel because it is so random, what about when someone behind coughs or sneezes or clears their throat and its so loud that you just can’t hear what the speaker just said.   When we use repetition we increase the chance that it will stay

2) Short Term Memory Loss. This is still one of my favourite sayings.  If you remember Finding Nemo, then you remember the blue fish, Dory’s constant bout with “Short Term Memory Loss”.  She would forget things almost instantly.  Some days, I feel that way too as I’m constantly bombarded with new situations, scenario’s and information that its difficult to remember things.  The human brain has three levels of memory:  Short term, Medium term and Long term memory.  Short term memory is where information only lasts about 10-15 seconds and disappears.  If its important enough, the person will push it into medium term memory where it will last for hours.  If its even more important, it will go into long term memory and stay with us almost permanently.  We need to aim for medium term memory at the very least, again by repeating certain important and key points that we’re making at just the right time can dramatically increase the chances of our audience members remembering our message.  If we can get our audience to remember our message and key points, they will remember us and we will have improved their lives – isn’t that the goal?

3) We Want Our Message and Key Points To Linger.   Ideally, as speakers, we want our message to stay in our audience’s long term memory.  This is usually achieved with personal stories that are so profound that we’ve had a huge impact on our audience.  Case in point, I had a friend come up to me recently telling me how she remembered a story about a car purchase I made in a speech I gave years earlier.  She reminded me about how the moral was so profound that it still resonates with her even till today.   The key to getting a message  or story to “profound” status is to provide memory anchors or as Craig Valentine calls “call backs”  where we recall things that either happened earlier in the speech or earlier in the day.

The toughest part as a speaker is repetition.  We think or worry that if we use repetition that we’re going to sound unprepared or confusing.   The reality is that, that couldn’t be far from the truth.  I’ve proven this time and time again in courses I teach where I’m dealing with 19 year old budding computer programmers who have their laptops open and Facebook or Youtube ready to go.  Quite often, a new status update on one person’s Facebook page will lead to 3 others in the vicinity looking over to see what is going on.  Not only do I have to battle these distractions to win their attention back to me, but I also have to do damage control through repetition to those who were trying to pay attention but were distracted by the person who was on Facebook.

So there you have it, now its time for you to go out and battle that virus we call memory loss and win your audiences back!

Happy Speaking!

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