How to Make a Presentation Stick

Remember how in “Presenting 101” they taught us that giving a presentation is all about getting an idea across? There’s an unfortunate truth they don’t tell you, though: You can be great at getting across a message, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be successful as a presenter. What you need is stickiness. While your precious message might hit every single audience member head-on, if it then slides right off, you didn’t accomplish your goal. Your message has got to leave a lasting impression.

In this post I’m going to give you six principles for achieving stickiness. Follow these and your presentations will be as pleasantly sticky as the best hot cinnamon buns you’ve ever had.

Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick was a major inspiration for this post. It’s well worth checking out.

1. Simply Memorable

A simple message is easy to understand, and easy to relay with just a few words or images. Because it is “short and sweet,” it’s easier to remember than something long and complex.

Proverbs are great examples of this. Nuggets of wisdom like, “Treat others as you would like them to treat you” have traveled down through thousands of years and across the whole world.

Applying the idea of simplicity to presentations gives us practical rules like these:

  • Stick to just one core message per slide
  • Use clear, easily recognizable and highly communicative images whenever possible
  • If a slide begins to get crowded, spread your information over two or more slides instead

Here’s a “before and after” example of simplicity vs. complexity in presentation slides:

2. Be a 328-Foot-Tall Radioactive Lizard

…but seriously: Leverage the unexpected.

Once you’ve boiled your message down to its core simplicity, work out how to deliver it in a way the audience doesn’t expect:

  • Make a wild but legitimate comparison or contrast
  • Use a startling but point-making image
  • Do or say something that punches through normal expectancies; make a fast break from the familiar patterns of every presentation you’ve ever yawned through

Do this well and you’ll have their complete attention – and their continued attention.

An unexpected element can burn a fact or event strongly into the memory. But that element doesn’t have to be huge to be effective:

  • Give a slide or slides a black background instead of the traditional white
  • Lose your borders and backgrounds and fill the screen with a striking image (add an unexpected sound bite for even greater impact)
  • Break up a serious presentation with a bit of humor

A surprising or thought-provoking comparison can also be effective as an unexpected element:


3. Concrete Clout

Use of concrete examples and other elements increases memorability. Dump the abstract ideas, generalizations, piles of dry statistics and (please!!) the corporate-cool buzzwords and clichés. Get real:

  • Give specific, familiar examples, analogies and comparisons
  • State definite, easily-visualized results or consequences
  • Put things into the context of your audience members’ lives and experience

These things powerfully connect what you say with things and ideas already anchored in people’s minds and memories.

Here’s a concrete before-and-after example:

Make it concrete and simple, and people will remember it. (By the way, this “iceberg” analogy has proven extremely effective. You can find this and other versions at

4. Credibility: Belief is Sticky

Our next stickiness-enhancer is credibility. By presenting your point with excellent credentials, you give your audience good reason to believe you by connecting your subject with someone or something they already trust and believe in. At once you build credibility by association.

Case histories, anecdotes, independent user reviews and the like can also act as credentials, bolstering believability.

For example, take Nespresso’s successful ad campaign featuring George Clooney. Why believe George Clooney’s take on coffee? Well, today there are a lot of people who will believe an “A-lister’s” take on just about anything. But there’s also this: Mr. Clooney can obviously afford any kind of coffee he wants. He’s also traveled widely and probably sampled the very best coffees the world has to offer. Chances are good that he really does know what he’s talking about.

Speaking of credibility, why should you believe what I’m saying in this post? Well, earlier I mentioned the book Made to Stick as an important source. That book is the product of extensive research and testing by respected experts in the fields of business and education, whose work has been published in prestigious scientific and business publications.

5. Emotionally Sticky

Emotions can also play a major role in establishing credibility. If you can connect with your audience to the degree that they are sharing your feelings on your talk’s subject, they will also be far more receptive to your message. You’re adding an emotional “tag” to that message, further embedding it in their minds and memories.

This shared-feelings phenomenon is exactly what the term “sympathetic audience” refers to. “Sympathy” comes from Greek words meaning “together feeling” or “same feeling.”

There are many speaker tools and techniques for gaining an emotional connection and rapport with your audience. That’s really a whole subject of its own. For a great start on the subject, check out this fascinating TED talk.

6. Weave a Sticky Story

If you can manage to weave a story into your presentation, you’ve once again increased its sticking power. Think about it. Which kind of “presentation” from your childhood do you remember more vividly today: a story you were told (by your grandma, for example) or a lecture you heard in school?

Let’s take the famous story of The Little Mermaid. Maybe it was read to you as a child, or perhaps you saw the movie version. You might not know or remember any of the tale’s background, like when and where it was written, or by whom, but the bulk of the tale itself probably stuck with you quite well.

A good story normally contains all the elements we’ve looked at above – simplicity, unexpectedness, emotions and the rest. It combines and amplifies them, adding interest and curiosity to make the whole package very sticky indeed.

One approach to story building is to begin with a mystery or challenge – the mystery or challenge that your product (or strategy or whatever) answers or solves.

In some cases you can make the story about you, at least in part. This can add authenticity and build the emotion and sympathy factor mentioned earlier. Just don’t go overboard and make your talk all about you, when it’s supposed to highlight something else altogether.

For a deeper dig into the craft of storytelling, have a look at this step-by-step guide.

Now, how do you remember these six essentials of stickiness success? Here’s how the authors of Made to Stick put it:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpected
  • Credential
  • Concrete
  • Emotional
  • Story

READ MORE: How One Presenter Got 1 Million Views on SlideShare

About the author

Toke Kruse is a serial entrepreneur with more than 10 startups to his credit. He is the owner of, a major provider of PowerPoint presentation templates. He’s also founder of Billy’s Billing, creators of small business accounting software in plain English.

16 Responses to “How to Make a Presentation Stick”

  1. Lloyd Sewell

    most of this is crap – since there are no competition – it is not like you have 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 companies all offering the same stuff and – by adopting these techniques – your product stands out and you gain market share – it all sounds very good and very logical – But it is all crap – the only reason that these companies engage in this sort of crap is to encourage unsuspecting customers to buy the crap that these companies are trying desperately to sell – the products themselves have absolute no value to anyone – because in most cases the products are filled with all sort of artificial stuff – rendering them totally useless…the vast amounts spent on venal advertising – would be better spent improving the quality of the product – instead of the quality of the advertising…

  2. vlodko62

    Agree that the the products used as examples are crap – and for that matter much of what is advertised and sold is crap. McDonald’s? Nespresso? George Clooney may have “credibility,” but I doubt he actually drinks that stuff at home.

    The techniques outlined can be used for other things as well (including ideas and concepts that aren’t about making money). Maybe you’re trying to convince people to volunteer their time for a worthy cause. Some or all of the ideas could be applied there…

  3. frankahilario

    With or without competition, you still have to make your presentation memorable – and SUCCESS is a great way to do it. Products don’t sell themselves – even the products of Steve Jobs couldn’t do it. You’re suffering from CRAP – customer rage against powerful presentations!

  4. John L

    That proved the point, if you dress up your crap enough: it turns into $.

  5. ACK IT Consulting

    I do not understand Lloyd’s complaint with the article. The article is reminding effective communicators of basic principle and educating non effective communicators. Well done article, brief, direct, and understandable.

  6. Janet BB - Librarian

    Am a Librarian who supports free speech AND ethical use of information (citations) & copyright.
    Yes, the “inspiration” source for the post is mentioned one time, then this posting is essentially a gigantic paraphrase of the Heaths’ book – without further credit given. Hope you had the authors’ permission to essentially use their book (and full outline of key ideas in their appendix).

    Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) by Chip & Dan Heath uses the SUCCES[S] model. see

  7. peteraltschuler

    Lloyd Could Repel A Pederast, but….

    This comes down to a very simple rule: don’t be boring. If you can imagine having a dozen better things to do than looking at the presentation you just created, go back. Make it into something you’d go out of your way to see… and tell people about. And if you can’t do that on your own, find someone who can.

    Think “Sesame Street” — the perfect blend of entertainment (for children and their parents) and information. It’s enjoyable to watch, but the content lingers long after the show is over. Ask a kid.

  8. MrMattD

    Lloyd, sorry about your miserably unhappy life and unsatisfying buying experiences, but please go troll somewhere else.

  9. Sling

    The last S that you have added is about Success itself as only a strong focus can bring the kind of sticky effect the article is talking about and then nothing succedes like success..

  10. Cornelis Peters

    Great article. Thanks for sharing this. Next week I have a presentation and I go through all my slides with this 6 words in mind to shape it into a sticky presentation.

  11. Nadia McDonald

    These concepts presented are brilliant! I endorse most of the ideas underscored because one has to stand out and be unique in their approach and style. Creativity and passion are generally reflected to pulse the outcome of it’s audience and how one can drive traffic.

  12. Angela M Siskey

    Whoa! Hey this is a “freebie” post; this is nice information to help remind senior presenters-trainers & helpful information for those that are new to the wonderful world of facilitation & training. Being unprofessional is quite unattractive and 99.9% ineffective perhaps you might use a new approach Lloyd. Great job Ann….

  13. Angela M Siskey

    Funny…..even though I hate talking in acronyms, I will have to agree it’s witty!