Steven Cohen, ECG Principal, explains how both presenters and listeners profit by a thoughtful sequencing of messages.

As a presenter, you want your audience to connect with your messages, mull them over, accept your argument, and take the action you propose. But to do that, your audience has to pay attention, process, and remember those messages, none of which may happen if you do not structure your presentation around the what matters most to your audience. Most of us have limited attention spans and little time or interest for topics that do not affect us. Given those human characteristics, speakers need to sequence and deliver their presentations in ways that help audiences not only connect with and understand messages but remember them.


The Law of Primacy holds that what you present first will create a solid and lasting impression on listeners. A strong beginning immediately captures the attention of the audience. The first words of the presentation—in our model, the “grabber”—tend to have great impact on attention and retention. Fashion a grabber that:

Then, as you move toward messages, begin with the one that will be most compelling to your audience. In other words, while Message B might be most compelling to you personally, if Message A is more compelling to the audience, Message A should come first.

If, for example, the action you seek is approval of a project, all messages should speak to the benefits the audience would derive from its approval. The messages could look something like this:

  • A. The project will increase revenue by 20%.
  • B. By combining Team A and Team B on this project, both teams will have a lower workload.
  • C. The project will enable us to hit our annual goals 4 months early.

The sequence above makes sense if the audience is primarily interested in how to increase revenue. But it would not be optimal if the audience were most concerned with lowering workloads or reaching annual goals sooner.


The other effect of sequence follows the Law of Recency: what you last say will have a greater impact and be most easily remembered. In our model, that would be the “close.” It should include a call to action linked to a benefit. That benefit is usually the same benefit mentioned in the grabber, so the close reinforces the message of the grabber. But by linking it to the call to action, it also propels the audience toward the desired outcome.

Do all you can to draw listeners’ attention and keep it. Do all you can to help them retain, accept, and act upon your messages. Thoughtful sequencing helps—and because it helps listeners pay attention, it helps you get them to your desired outcome.