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Create Memorable Content: Conversation with Carmen Simon

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
posted by Geetesh on 9:30 AM IST



Carmen SimonCarmen Simon's presentations and workshops help business professionals to use communication and presentation skills to increase revenue, train or motivate others, and overall to stand out from too much sameness in the industry. A published author, Dr. Simon is frequently invited as a keynote speaker at various conferences. She is co-founder of Rexi Media, a company that helps business professionals from all fields improve their presentation skills, whether they deliver content face-to-face, online, or create on demand presentations.

In this interview, Dr. Carmen Simon reveals additional insights from her science-based book, Impossible to Ignore on how to create memorable and actionable content.

Geetesh: Are there specific parts of a presentation that people remember more, compared to other parts?

Carmen: There are quite a few studies that showed the primacy and recency effects, meaning that people may remember items from the beginning and ending a lot more than items in the middle of a sequence (depending, of course, on the speed of the presentation and the length). We must be careful in interpreting these findings because they are typically linked to short-term memory tests. When long-term memory is concerned, and given a longer presentation length, studies show that people make a fixed number of searches for items in the long-term store, and the probability of retrieving a particular item is lower when there are more items. In other words, primacy and recency are not so impactful on memory when we deliver long presentations. However, a poor beginning may lead to a negative emotion, which impacts attention, and it turn influences memory or lack of it. So always treat your beginnings seriously.

Consider a study done using Super Bowl ads, where scientists wanted to see which ads would be recalled better. They discovered that commercials presented during the first batch of ads were remembered significantly better than commercials displayed in the middle or at the end of the program. Since alcohol and tedium that may occur during a football game are likely to interfere with a study, other researchers replicated the study in lab conditions, and asked participants to view 15 commercials. After a long-term memory test, findings showed that the primacy effect held strong, while the recency effect faded. This means that whenever we’re creating content, we are well served to place the most important information at the beginning of the sequence and not save the best for last.


Place your most important messages at the beginning of a sequence

Geetesh: What other insights have you discovered while writing Impossible to Ignore?

Impossible to Ignore by Carmen SimonCarmen: One of the insights people love to hear about is that pictures are not always more memorable than text. For example, in a study I completed, the inclusion of neutral images in text-based PowerPoint slides did not improve recall. It is true that there is plenty of research suggesting that a visual stimulus can have a positive influence on memory. And one explanation for picture superiority springs from a theory called dual coding, according to which the representations for pictures and words are stored in two separate memory systems, and pictures are represented by an image code, while words by a verbal code. Research suggests that pictures often show recall superiority because they are dually encoded (i.e., they evoke both the image and the verbal code) and these two memory traces increase the probability of retrieving an event.

However, other studies, including my own, confirmed that, even though sequences of images are learned better than sequences of words, they are not necessarily retained better over time and especially when are audiences' memory is tested via free recall. There is a difference between asking people, "What do you remember from a presentation" vs. giving them cues, such as, "Which one of these 3 images do you remember seeing in the presentation?"

In studies I conduct, I notice that I do not have to use pictures all the time to impact memory. There are other techniques that can impact memory just as easily, such as breaking a pattern that viewers have learned to expect (e.g., presenting text after a series of graphics) or using words that paint concrete mental pictures in an audience's mind (e.g., "Imagine what you looked like if you had a third eye behind your neck").

These two techniques are useful because they can save presenters money since the inclusion of images in presentation content may imply additional design time and cost.


Pictures are not always more memorable than text. Breaking patterns in stimulation and using visual words can also impact recall.

For more information on how the brain processes information, remembers, and decides to act, read Impossible to Ignore, available at Amazon or anywhere else that books are sold.

See Also: Carmen Simon on Indezine

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