On Monday afternoon at the Presentation Summit, after most attendees had finished a heavy conference lunch, it was time for Carmen Simon to deliver her keynote. Of course, some attendees also found time to make a small detour to New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street before her keynote! You’ll agree that this audience was the same, yet so different than the ones who attended Nigel Holmes’ keynote that very morning!
OK, so how would Carmen hold their interest? And what was her topic?
Carmen started, For the past few years, I am asking this question from a neuro-scientific angle. Is your content remembered?
She then elaborated further, We hear a lot, keep a lot, and forget a lot. According to a theory called the forgetting curve, which is also associated with a scientific formula, we remember very little from new content we learned two days before if make no conscious effort to remember it at the time. However, that “little” may be something we remember for a longer time.
At this point in time, Carmen had successfully captured the attention of everyone in the room! She had spoken about something that was important to everyone: memory.
She then observed that You may wonder how students remember everything they write in their exams. Why does it not happen that way in business? Students – at least the conscientious ones, make more effort than business audiences to remember the content. In business presentations, audiences are typically in a state of partial attention.
Carmen then added, If you haven’t slept a lot and are under stress. you will also remember less. So if you are talking to sleep-deprived audiences who are in a state of partial attention, it is hard to rely on the fact that they will remember a lot.
Let’s consider a metaphorical number. People remember 10%” of what we share, Carmen said. She specified, This is metaphorical because, in the business world, it is very difficult to place a strict statistic on how much your audiences remember. When you work in academia, it is different because you have more precise measuring tools and people expect their memory may be tested. Not the same in business. We don’t have the luxury to say to a business audience: pay attention, you will be tested later.
Dr. Simon also indicated that while people remember very little; the metaphorical 10%, it is practical for any business presenter to be in control of that 10%. Otherwise, what she is noticing is that this percentage is left to chance. For example, if 5 people attend your meeting or business presentation, it is possible for all 5 to remember 5 different things.
For the past four years, Dr. Simon has been working on a system, called The Rexi Method (Rexi comes from the Latin verb to direct, or to guide), which contains a set of guidelines on how to be in charge of the 10% that people remember. Part of the formula is mastering attention, which paves the way to memory, and also decision, which is the reason memory is important. Ultimately, the reason we want others to remember something about our message is so they act on it in some way and they find it easy to decide in our favor.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong at each of these stages. Take Attention, for instance. Dr. Simon explained one reason why people stop paying attention to a message: habituation. This means that as we get used to a stimulus, we pay less and less attention to it. For example, when you are at work and music is playing in the background, you pay attention to it at first, but gradually stopped noticing it.
This also means that if we want to sustain someone’s attention, we must change the stimulus frequently. For example, you can alternate:
- From Text to Graphics
- From Formal to Informal
- From Static to Dynamic
- From Monologue To Dialogue
- From Facts To Stories
- From Complexity To Simplicity
Carmen shared more thoughts:
The brain is looking to conserve energy. That is why people may fall asleep during presentations.
And so we need to create memory traces. If you create Zen-like presentations with pictures, will people remember them at all after 2 days?
Use change to draw attention but once you know what your “10%” message is, keep it constant among the changes of stimulation.
Overall, as you reflect on your own messages, ask this question: how often does your stimulus vary? Do you use slides that display for minutes at a time, without much variation? Is there enough stimulation for your viewers that attracts focus and does not push them toward their smartphones? When you have the answer to these questions, it will be easier to hold attention. And when you have attention, you’re more likely to form memories in people’s minds.
Carmen Simon is a cognitive neuroscientist, author, and founder of Memzy, a company that uses brain science to help corporations create memorable messages. Carmen’s most recent book, Impossible to Ignore: Create Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, has won the acclaim of publications such as Inc, Forbes, and Fast Company and has been selected as one of the top international books on persuasion. Carmen holds two doctorates, one in instructional technology and another in cognitive psychology. Carmen speaks frequently to corporate, academic, and government audiences on the importance of using brain science to craft communication that is not only memorable but sparks action. After all, what’s the use of memory if people don’t act on it?
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