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Use This Framework for Fascinating & Memorable Presentations (Backed by Science)

minute read

Table of Contents:

  • The hardest part about any presentation
  • Winston's Star: A framework for engaging and unforgettable presentations
  • Breaking down the most-viewed TED Talk in history
  • The Bottom Line

Most people hate presenting. Not because they don't like crafting a story or building the PowerPoint deck, but because capturing and maintaining an audience's attention is really difficult. Engaging presentations are down to how we package  our ideas, and for lots of people that can feel intimidating and difficult (and there's usually a deadline to hit).


The late professor and Director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Patrick Winston, discovered the same issues in MITs PhD students. To solve this issue, he would give anannual lecture at MIT where he explained how to package complex topics so that they were easy to remember and share. His audience was about ot embark on their professional scientific careers where giving engaging presentations at conferences was critical to their success. They needed a systematic way to make their complex - and sometimes boring - discoveries accessible, entertaining, and engaging. Not an easy task.


Patrick Winston spent decades distilling his approach into a model called “Winston’s Star.” Unsurprisingly, this model works because of its application of psychology and behavioral science - applied consciously, or not.


(Sidenote: I use this model in my own presentation and when I work with my coaching and consulting clients. If you'd prefer to learn more about this model, I recommend checking out Patrick Winston's book or my Choice Hacking Academy course, "How to Create More Persuasive and Engaging Presentations.")


What is Winston's Star? A Framework for Engaging and Unforgettable Presentations

Winston's Star says you need 5 elements in a presentation to be memorable:

  • Slogan: This is a simple, easy-to-remember phrase that summarizes the main idea. It should be repeated over and over and over.
  • Symbol: This is a visual that people can associate with the message and makes it more memorable.
  • Salient Idea: This is the one idea that pops to mind when someone asks “what was the pitch about?” Slogans and Salient Ideas can overlap or act interchangeably.
  • Surprise: If you can arouse people’s emotions with a surprise, it makes your pitch more memorable.
  • Story

To more easily explain and illustrate this model, I’m going to use one of the most memorable and persuasive TED Talks of all time, Simon Sinek’s The Power of Why. The idea itself might be debatable (I'm not a huge fan), but the packaging is first class.

I recommend watching the video (below) before continuing this article.

Here's how Simon Sinek uses Winston's Start (knowingly or not) to explain his ideas in an engaging, entertaining, and memorable way: 

🧠 Slogan:
This is a simple, easy-to-remember phrase that summarizes the main idea. It should be repeated over and over and over.

Sinek's example: 

He says, “Start with why” about 100 different ways in 18 minutes.

🧠 Symbol:
This is a visual that people can associate with the message and makes it more memorable (Picture Superiority).

Sinek's example: 

He uses a simple, target-like image with "why" at the center, and he calls it the Golden Circle.


🧠 Salient Idea:
This is the one idea that pops to mind when someone asks “what was the pitch about?” Slogans and Salient Ideas can overlap or act interchangeably.

Sinek's example: 

“Why” is more powerful than “what.”

🧠 Surprise:
If you can arouse people’s emotions with a surprise, it makes your pitch more memorable (Affect Heuristic).

Sinek's example:

Leaders think their biggest challenge is the “what” and the “how” but actually it’s the “why.”

🧠 Story:
We learn and retain knowledge more easily when it’s in a narrative format (down to Narrative Bias).

Sinek’s example (summarized):
"Why is Apple more innovative than any other company? Why is it that Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights movement? Why did the Wright brothers get credit for manned flight?

Turns out that all of these people think, act and communicate the same way - and it's the exact opposite of everyone else… and here’s how I codified it."

The Bottom Line

Want to make your presentations more engaging, memorable and entertaining? Use Winston's Star as a framework to design your PowerPoint deck or as a checklist for an existing presentation. It's an easy way to make sure you're applying psychology and behavioral science to make your presentations sing. 

About the author

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA

Hi 👋 I'm Jen Clinehens (MS, MBA) the founder and Managing Director of Choice Hacking.

I started Choice Hacking in 2021 to help marketers and entrepreneurs figure out what makes buyers tick, and elevate their work using behavioral science, marketing psychology, and AI.

If you want to learn more, check out links to my newsletter, podcast, YouTube channel and other free resources below 👇


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