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Impossible to Ignore: Conversation with Carmen Simon

Friday, May 13, 2016
posted by Geetesh on 9:45 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, Carmen talks about her new book, Impossible to Ignore.

Geetesh: Carmen, your new book Impossible to Ignore was just released. What motivated and inspired you to create this book?

Impossible to Ignore by Carmen SimonCarmen: There were several things that converged and pushed me into action. A few years ago, I completed a study to answer a simple question: how much would people remember from a 20-slide presentation after 2 days? Each slide had only one message. On average, participants remembered 4 slides. However, out of 1,500 people who were part of the study, 500 remembered zero. I was humbled by those results, particularly since I noticed that many people did not admit to remembering nothing. Many made things up.

As a result of that study, I started asking another question: can we control what people remember? Or is memory a random process, typically left to chance? So I created a few variations of the study, and discovered that, on average, people did not necessarily remember more than 4 for slides but it was possible to control what they remembered. For example, when I applied techniques such as distinctiveness, highly emotional visuals, or broke a pattern the audience learned to expect, I could impact recall with precision. I concluded after the study that it’s not important to convince people to remember more things, but rather to convince them to remember the right things. Sometimes, the mistake we make when we share content with others is that we aim for sharing a lot, instead of focusing on the precision of what people will take away.


Break a pattern people learn to expect in order to influence recall

Geetesh: What is easy to remember and what is easy to forget?

Carmen: Things that are already part of people’s habits are easy to remember. Habits are automatic, they require very little cognitive energy and therefore are more likely to put into action. This is why it is important to link a new message to existing habits. For example, if I wanted you to remember to take vitamins and I know you’re an avid TV watcher, I would place the vitamin bottle next to the remote control. Each time you indulge your existing habit, you’re also seeing a reminder of a new one. With enough repetition, even if the vitamin bottle is not there (let’s say you’re on vacation), when you pick a TV remote, your brain will prompt you to think of vitamins. The mistake many content creators make is to speak of content outside of their audiences’ existing habits.

What is easy to forget? To answer this, we must consider how memory works: when we are exposed to information, we encode it, store it, consolidate it, and later retrieve it. Things can go wrong at each of these four stages, and the result is a forgettable message. For example, when people multitask and their attention is split, it is difficult to encode something well and retrieve it later. Or, if we encode it, we don't practice it long enough to store it (sometimes people rush through messages, or bombard an audience with so many messages that it is hard for any of them to stick long-term). Memories are not created instantly, they need consolidation time and sleep is known to mediate this consolidation process. So if you’re presenting to an audience who is sleep-deprived or will be exposed to even more information after listening to you, it will be difficult for memories to solidify. And finally, even if the first three stages go perfectly – we encode, store, and consolidate – it is still possible for a message not to come to mind when we want to retrieve it. This may be because a memory does not have a “hook” strong enough to pull it from an inventory of memories. Typically, this happens due to interference. Sometimes there are so many similar messages, that it is hard to tell what is what. Think of slides that use the same layout (text on the left, picture on the right) – how many of these slides would you be able to retrieve from memory a few days later? Forgetting happens when nothing stands out.

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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