Learning science for the rest of us: Make your content memorable

Sometimes, the best practices that go into designing a great course apply to other undertakings—and we want to share them with a broader audience.

In my role as instructor growth manager, I help Udemy instructors make their lectures more engaging, but the same advice applies to anyone giving a talk. Whether you’re teaching students or presenting in a work setting, you want your content to hit its mark and be memorable.

Help your audience connect with your main message by following one of these approaches for building an attention-grabbing presentation and check out the courses that illustrate each one.  

Stories take the listener on a journey through someone else’s experience. They can be earnest, humorous, cautionary, or inspiring and put your topic into relatable human context.

Dan Rather’s course, “Journalism & Finding the Truth in the News,” draws heavily from his personal experience reporting on some of the late 20th century’s most historic events. As he recounts the ways journalistic thinking helped him respond to important news, documentary footage puts students right there in the moment.

What stories can you tell to give first-hand immediacy to your topic?

Psychology professor Rebecca Todd said, “If you can connect to an audience’s emotional responses, they will perceive the information more vividly, be less distracted, and will be more likely to remember it.” You can use charged images and language to capture attention with joy, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, etc.

Kelly McGonigal starts her course, “The Neuroscience of Self-Compassion,” with an origin story about being criticized by someone in a lecture audience and how that affected her emotionally.

How could you create a meaningful emotional charge at the start of your presentation?

As this blog post demonstrates, what you’re learning becomes more relatable when your audience can see different real-life examples of a concept in action.

How to Make a Difference” by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn addresses social justice and human rights issues through case studies of organizations working on intractable problems like poverty, inequality, and human trafficking. Calling out exemplary role models is a powerful way to set standards for your audience and makes theoretical content feel more relatable to their lives.

What example could you use to motivate your audience to take action?

Hard facts
You’ve heard the saying, “the numbers don’t lie.” For that reason, data can be very powerful in helping people remember information. It serves as objective proof and support for the messages you want to convey in your presentation.

Pat Duckworth anchors her course, “Top Sleep Tips: Practical and Life Changing Sleep Advice,” with research showing how lack of sleep can lead to systemic inflammation, higher blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and higher incidence of some cancers.

How could you drive your message home with a strong, memorable fact or data point?

Organizing frameworks
Organizing frameworks, such as mnemonics, diagrams, graphs, and maps, put your information into a memorable context. These tools guide students to think more strategically about how concepts fit together.

In “Inspirepreneur: Creating change through public speaking,” instructor Jonty Bush uses a simple Venn diagram to show, rather than just tell, how three attributes of successful public speaking interrelate. Frameworks like this work as a visual shortcut to enable quicker brainstorming and decision making.

How can you condense your main messages into a visual or mnemonic bundle that’s easy to grasp?

Sometimes the best way to explain something is to talk your audience through it step-by-step so they can follow your thought process and replicate it for their own needs.

Ben Colefax teaches “How to Draw Cute Cartoon Characters” by demonstrating each action needed to draw, color, and shade in Photoshop, but he keeps each lecture focused and simple to follow. It’s an approachable, accessible way to show beginners what they can accomplish.

How could you take your audience on a step-by-step journey to make a process more understandable?

Take a cue from these Udemy instructors to add a little pizazz to your next speaking engagement!