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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Have you heard of the “forgetting curve”?

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

graph of the forgetting curve with primacy and recency effects

How well do you remember something?

Research shows that over time, not so well.

This phenomenon was described by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1880’s as the “Forgetting Curve.”

What is the forgetting curve?

This phenomenon evolved into a u-shaped curve called the “serial position memory curve” based on research which showed we are able to recall what is presented first or last more than what is in the middle. (1)

Being able to recall what is presented first is called the primacy effect, and recalling what is presented last is called the recency effect.

This makes the start and finish of a presentation of utmost importance. The effective communicator accounts for this by hooking the audience immediately, creating a desire to attend until the end, and providing a memorable and impactful closing.

Download Tip Sheet #14 for these...

5 tips to Deliver Strong Openings and Closings:

Tip #1 Grab attention

Without an audience’s attention, you cannot share a message or make an impact. Therefore, the primary goal of a successful presentation opening is to capture the audience’s attention. This means drawing their attention away from distractions and helping the audience focus on the presentation.

A strong opening grabs their attention. A great presentation maintains it.

Tip #2 Build anticipation

To build anticipation is to create a strong desire to attend, making the audience want to continue listening in order to learn what you promise to deliver.

Open the presentation by acknowledging the problem you will solve. Provide clues to where you are headed. Share the questions you will answer, the key points to be covered, or what they will learn.

Tip #3 Establish a foundation

Audiences are more willing to take in new information when it is connected to their prior knowledge and experiences. Remind the audience of what they know and communicate your knowledge of their needs and concerns about the topic.

A strong opening establishes the structure, feel, and content of the presentation. Maintain these from start to finish.

Tip #4 Wrap it up well

The closing of a presentation is an opportunity to summarize your key points and remind the audience of what they learned. Repetition is a powerful memory tool. If a story was used in the opening, finish it. If a problem was posed, solve it.

By using a closing that flows from the opening and body of the presentation, the audience feels a sense of closure and completeness.

Tip #5 Send forth with purpose

The purpose of an informative presentation goes beyond gaining and maintaining attention, to learning and taking action to achieve the desired outcomes after the presentation ends.

Inspire your audience to apply what they learned and put it into practice. Call your audience to action. A strong closing is both memorable and motivating.

You can get a downloadable copy of this tip sheet, as well as all other tip sheets.

A previous blog shared the story of a creative opening for a food demonstration.

What approaches do you prefer for presentation openings and closings?

“Begin with the end in mind.” ~ Stephen Covey

1. Azizian A, Polich J. Evidence for Attentional Gradient in the Serial Position Memory Curve from Event-related Potentials. J Cogn Neurosci. 2007;19(12):2071-2081.

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