I laughed when I saw that the inspiration for Hugh Lofting's children's book series on Dr Dolittle came when he thought that actual news was either too horrible or too dull.

This made me think of some of the horrible and dull presentations I have sat through – one last weekend in particular – and also appreciate modern day Dr Doolittle's research into working memory, which can help us engage our audiences better.

Dr Peter Doolittle is a professor of educational psychology in the School of Education at Virginia Tech in the US, and points out in a recent TEDTalk that the pushmi-pullyu fragmentation of modern day life reduces the capacity of our working memories, making it harder to absorb and remember information than it was in Hugh Lofting's time.

When listening to his four strategies for making the most of working memory, I was struck by how consistent his recommendations are with the structured and logical approach to communication that I learned at McKinsey.

  1. Repeat (and practice) to remember. When presenting your ideas after you have organised them into a logical storyline you naturally provide your high level ideas at the beginning and then repeat each one as you come to those sections within your presentation
  2. Think elaboratively and illustratively to connect ideas to existing knowledge. By providing ideas in an order that is logically focused around your audience's needs and concerns, you will help with this. You will help further by unpacking these ideas step by step and providing practical and relevant examples wherever possible
  3. Organise your ideas. Being structured is critical as people are ‘meaning making machines' wanting to make sense of everything.The challenge here is to ensure that we present our information so clearly that they take away our intended meaning  rather than one of their own
  4. Support your points with visuals. Clean, simple, clear and definitely-not-ugly visuals will help cement your points in your audience's mind.

If you would like to learn more about how to organise your ideas to maximise the chance that your audience will grasp and remember your points you may like to


Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.