The Magic Number Is…

Very often our presentations culminate with “the “X” steps to success,” or “top ‘X’ takeaways,” or “top ‘X’ goals for today.” The question begs, what is “X”? Should X be three, five, seven, 10… ? The more takeaway bullets we can give, the better, right? Wrong.

Less is more when it comes to your bulleted steps or takeaways from a presentation. Scientific studies of the brain and memory have shown time and again that people can keep three key points or steps in their short-term memory. After three, the brain kicks one out so there’s room for the next. You may have seven on the slide, but your audience has deleted four from their short-term memory and most likely retained only three.

If you really think about it, three is a great number. Things always happen in threes… three represents a beginning, a middle, and an end, or a past, a present, and a future. I feel a bit like The Count on Sesame Street, but three is a magical number with a great ring to it. Plus it ties things up nice and neat, keeps things simple, and forces you, as the presenter, to focus on what is really important for your audience.

If you have more to say, think about directing the audience to the information elsewhere… provide a web address, print material, or a blog site. Think about why your audience is there listening to you and what they want to leave with. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

Think about how you can condense your material into points that are manageable and easy to remember. Maybe it’s a key word for each. Count them out on your hand using three fingers. And remember – three is the magic number. Less is more when it comes to presenting.

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