Think about your most recent proposal or presentation. Did you use clear, simple messaging? Great. Did you limit your focus to the three (plus or minus one) main benefits your service/product will provide to your prospect? Even better. Did your prospect remember them? Don’t be so sure.
According to two Indiana University studies, information remains in your prospect’s short-term memory for only 18 seconds. That’s right, 18 seconds! So this week we’re discussing the importance and use of repetition—a tool for ensuring that prospects recall your key messages long after your proposal or presentation. Let’s get started.
Why Just 18 Seconds?
At first thought, 18 seconds may seem like an unusually short time to forget three basic pieces of information. But it’s not. To illustrate, try the following exercise from Russell Revlin.
First, grab a pen, piece of paper, and timer. Got them? Read the following three letters and three-digit number: VZN 823. Immediately close your eyes and write down the three letters. Did you remember them correctly? Good job.
Now let’s do it again, but this time set your timer to 10 seconds. As soon as you read the following letters and number, close your eyes and begin counting backward by threes from the three-digit number (e.g., from 823, you would recite 820, 817, 814, etc.). Stop counting when the timer goes off and write down the three letters. Here are your letters and number: LQB 282.
Finally, do the same thing again, but this time set your timer to 20 seconds. Here are your letters and number: XHR 941.
Did you have a tough time? You’re not alone. Recall typically drops to only 15 percent accuracy when there is a delay of 18 seconds.
The confusion you experienced when trying to recall the letters is what cognitive psychologists refer to as interference, and prospects face the same challenge when processing information from your proposals and presentations.
For example, let’s say you include your three key benefits in your content, but only once. As the prospect makes their way through your additional information, they experience retroactive interference—the additional information prevents the recall of your other, more important information. Your wonderfully crafted benefits may be lost.
The secret to preventing interference is continually making your prospects pay attention to your key benefits. It sounds easy, but achieving this goal requires some effort (especially when faced with a massive proposal volume or hour-long presentation).
Often companies just restate their key benefits throughout their proposal or presentation. Unfortunately, this approach acts much like memorization, only temporarily keeping the benefits in your prospect’s mind. When the time comes to make a final decision about your company—often hours or days later—those benefits may be long gone from their memories.
Instead, your goal should be two-fold: (1) to clearly connect your benefits to as many other pieces of information as possible, and (2) to present those connections in memorable ways.
1. Connecting the Dots
According to psychologist Fergus Craik, your key messages will remain fresh in a prospect’s memory if you make them think about the meaningful relationship among items presented and focus on how those items connect to things they already know.
For instance, let’s say an accounting firm is proposing tax services to a company, and one of the benefits they’re highlighting is saving the company money by minimizing its global tax liabilities. Instead of stating this benefit once or simply repeating it several times, they ensure long-term recall by explaining how each feature of their firm, such as their relevant experience and customized approach, will allow them to provide this benefit.
They discuss their firm’s experience providing money-saving tax services to similar companies. They highlight how their approach will reduce the company’s tax liabilities. And when covering each item, they reference the company’s prior experiences and challenges (thereby connecting to things the prospect already knows).
2. Presenting Connections in Various, Memorable Ways
These continual connections focus your prospect’s attention on your key benefits, but there’s more you can do. To solidify a prospect’s long-term recall of your information—and make your benefits stand apart from those of your competitors—convey your connections in varied, memorable ways.
For example, address as many parts of the brain as possible by integrating information that appeals to your prospect’s logic (conscious thought) and emotion (unconscious thought). As persuasion expert Kurt Mortensen notes, emotion inspires prospects to take action (i.e., this company feels like a good fit), but logic is needed to justify those actions (i.e., they’re a good fit because of these qualities).
A study by the Persuasion Institute found that the most effective emotional components are stories, with testimonials, analogies, and pictures also resonating with prospects. For logical components, statistics are the most effective, with studies, evidence, and graphs also resonating. Just remember that there isn’t one end-all information type. To craft the most persuasive proposal or presentation, use a mix of emotional and logical components to reinforce your key benefits.
In addition to varying the type and construction of your information, provide it in diverse visual forms and patterns. For instance, highlight a key benefit via paragraph text, a callout, and a graphic. Also, incorporate rhythm by consistently using colors, numbers, or symbols throughout to denote different benefit types. This approach brings order to your prospect’s thoughts, making their memories more specific and vivid.
And if you really want to ensure long-term recall of information in an electronic proposal or presentation, add components that involve movement, such as video or hyperlinks. You can embed multimedia files directly in your PDF documents or PowerPoint presentations, providing a dynamic experience that connects to yet another part of your prospect’s brain—making the information more memorable.
The Influence of Order
Simplicity and repetition are essential for crafting powerful, persuasive messages that reflect how your prospect’s memory works. But does it matter what order you present those messages? You bet! From the order of key benefits in a proposal to the order in which your firm presents to a prospect, placement can have a major impact on persuasion. How major? We’ll be tackling that question in our next entry.
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