How to Create an Engaging Presentation Using Sense Memory

Have you ever sat through a presentation and started checking email or searching the web instead of listening? It happens often, I think, because we fail to deeply engage our audience. So often the presentations we deliver don’t stimulate our senses and ignite our audiences imaginations; which is essential if we want them to deeply engage with us. Here is where an actors technique known as Sense Memory can help you engage your audience and help you create a memorable presentation.

What is Sense Memory?

Sense Memory is an actors technique. The conventional use of sense memory helps actors create physical conditions — for example, the feeling of a hot day, a bad headache, or a broken leg. But decades ago psychiatrists discovered an “emotional release object,” which can release an entire emotional event through your memory. The technique involves recalling a sensual experience — sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch — to evoke an emotional reaction appropriate to a moment in the scene.

If you have ever been hungry (enough), and thought about your favorite food, chances are your mouth might have “watered”.  This is an example of your senses remembering the taste of the food, and responding accordingly by activating your salivary glands.

Have you ever reached into a dark closet and picked out the clothing you want to wear just by touching it?  Your senses “remember” the touch of the specific material of that particular article of clothing.

Evoking these kinds of memories in a presentation can help you engage your audience just as they help actors engage their audiences in a scene.

So if you have a wonderful story to tell – one that you want your audience to walk away remembering for a long time- you need to connect your message to images and feelings more than to facts and pie charts.  You need to make sure your audience can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it.  And to do this you have to see, smell, taste, touch and hear the elements of the story you want to tell first, so that you will react to them honestly and help your audience experience them along with you too.

So here is a sense memory exercise to help you improve your audience engagement.

Sense Memory Exercise

Find a simple cup and fill it with coffee or your favorite morning drink. In this exercise you will explore every sensory aspect of the cup, the liquid in it for at least fifteen minutes.  You will let your mind ask the questions, and your senses provide the answers. When you have done this, you are then able to recreate the cup without actually having the real cup as a reference any longer.  If the exercise is successful, you will actually “see”, “touch”, “taste”, “smell” and “hear” the cup and the coffee, as though it were there right in front of you.  Your senses will faithfully recreate the cup and drink for you.

1)  First, get in a chair and relax yourself. Actors actually have very detailed relaxation exercises. If you prefer, follow the actors method of relaxation.

2)  When you are relaxed, begin exploring the cup with one of your five senses.  Start with the sense of sight, because it is a very strong sense.  As your eyes view the cup, your mind should answer every detail about the visual aspects of the cup:  how tall is the cup?  what is the diameter of the cup?   what color is the cup?  of what material is the cup made?  what are the dimensions of the cup’s handle?  are there ridges on the cup’s lips (what dimensions?)?  is there artwork or ceramic design on the cup (what shape, color?)?  are reflections from the lights in the room visible on the cup (where, what color?)?  when do I first see the coffee inside the cup as I approach the cup to look in?  is the cup glazed?   are there flaws in the cup (what kind, what size?)?

3)  After you have exhausted every possible question your mind has asked your sense of sight to answer, move on to another one of the five senses, such as “touch”, and explore in the same deliberate exhaustive manner.

4)  Repeat this process for each of the senses- smell, taste, touch, hearing.

NOTE:  There is no rushing through this exercise.  The more time you take to explore, the better the exercise will serve you in deepening your sense memory which will help you more deeply engage your audience in your presentation.   And remember, when you recreate the “imaginary” cup, or what ever sensory experience you wish to recreate in your presentation,  it should not be pantomime, but an actual sensory exploration.

Good luck using sense memory to more deeply engage your audience!

About Lisa Canning

“Vowels are to words what creativity is to the world~ basic and necessary.”

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Lisa Canning is the founder of Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, IAEOU, the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship (IAE) and Entrepreneur the Arts.


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