Why you need to SLAP your Audience to be Memorable

Updated to Business on January 22, 2023.

In the late 19th century, in a lab at the University of Berlin, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus was staring intently at a long list of nonsensical 3 letter words. Curious about the slippery nature of memory, Ebbinghaus was carefully measuring his memory recall with words he had never seen before.

The result was the now famous, “forgetting curve” and a better understanding of how pathetically bad we are at recalling past events. According to Ebbinghaus, within 24 hours, 70% of what we learning has gone the way of the Dodo bird.

It turns out (not surprisingly) there are lots of reasons we forget. Interference theory suggests it’s hard to remember what you did last Tuesday (even yesterday?) because so much has happened since then.

There you have it: if you want to be memorable,  SLAP your audience – who knew?

Your memory can also be elusive because what you’re trying to remember wasn’t encoded well in the first place. Like trying to draw the back of a penny – sometimes we’re aware of something – we just can’t accurately recall it.

As a speaker, this is a problem—in effect, we get paid a small fortune to be forgettable. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.

You see, everyone can remember parts of a presentation, just like we remember that brilliantly scripted final standoff in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Newman and Redford come running out, guns blazing, or the slightly-uncomfortable, “I’ll have what she’s having” scene when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in front of a stunned Billy Crystal.

The trick to being memorable as a speaker is to: 1) have a valuable point, 2) prove this is perfectly relevant to the audience’s needs, and 3) anchor it to some memorable action (even if you’re not faking orgasm.)

That’s why I created the SLAP model (ya gotta love corny acronyms) for delivering my lessons. It goes like this:

STORY. We all love a good story. In fact, Stanford professors Gordon Bower and Michal Clark discovered stories are 6 to 7 times more memorable than any other type of content.

The right story will get your audience leaning in, wondering how it will end and will make it easier for them to recall the lesson that follows.

LESSON. This is what you’re being paid for – delivering a relevant, valuable lesson. When I’m crafting a speech I parcel off 50% of my time for the lessons (typically no more than 3 lessons.)

APPLICATION. There’s no point teaching a lesson if the audience can’t immediately make the connection to how they can use it. When I teach Boundaries in my Think, Plan, Act keynote I immediately rattle off a list of ways to apply Boundaries in your work and life—I want everyone to hear a solution they can use.

PARTICIPATION. Getting the audience to move will make you standout in a sea of boredom as well as boost delegates’ memory. My stand-by favourite is a 90-second dyad (two-person conversation) specifically about the lesson (you can read the exact instructions I use here.)