I recently attended the opening session of a national conference on leadership. The keynote speaker – a successful leader himself – began his speech this way:  “Um…thanks for that introduction, I really appreciate it.  So…um…I was thinking about this presentation on the ride in, and um, it struck me that I should talk about leadership from the perspective of, ya know, a CEO.”

While he was speaking these words, he was scratching his back with one hand and shuffling his notes with the other. To make matters worse, he was looking down the entire time.  If you were giving this speaker a grade on the “Powerful Introduction” continuum, what would you give him?

Years of brain research validates the Primacy-Recency effect.  We audience members are likely to remember the first thing we hear and the last; and we are prone to forget most of the middle.  Let’s test this theory.

Look at the following list of words for 12 seconds and then scroll down so they disappear from your screen.  Then try to write down all the words you remember.  When finished, scroll back up to see how many you recalled correctly. To get credit you must get the order and spelling correct.











How did you do?  If you successfully recalled all ten words then you win a medal, but we’ll have to test you for performance-enhancing drugs.  If you are like the rest of us, you probably recalled the first three and the last two.

Researchers refer to the introduction of a speech or presentation as “prime time” for learning.  So why would you waste time thanking the person who introduced you and filling your first two sentences with meaningless fillers when the Prime Time clock is ticking?

We encourage our clients to memorize their first two sentences and their last. We also work with them on word choice.  Vivid language is a key determinant in boosting recall and leaving a powerful impression on your audience.

Think back on your last presentation. What could you do to improve your first and last message points?

– Barbara Roche

Reference:  Rey Word Recognition Test, The Clinical Neuropsychologist, Volume 20, Number 4, December 2006