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Making things memorable

Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.” - Thomas Fuller


So far in the series we have discussed how learning can be boosted with genuine curiosity and made more stimulating with intense methods of learning. Today’s question is how can package information to make it more memorable? We will enlist the help of memory competitors and advertisers to understand how they try and make themselves and others remember things.


A good definition of remembering something is being able to retrieve when needed. It is both the storage and recollection.


Memorable data is useful in the encoding part of learning.

What we can learn from memory competitors?


In our quest for making things memorable, let’s start with people whose job it is to remember random data. There are people (true story) who compete to see how many items they can memorise. For example remembering shuffled playing cards, the world record is remembering 2,530 in an hour!. To achieve these incredible feats, memory systems are used to make the information more structured.

Example - the "memory palace" technique to remember cards:

  1. Choose a place: People usually choose their home as they have the best mental map of it. This is their memory palace. They have 26 places in their house that they use as points of interest as if walking through their house. Each point of interest, the bottom step or inside the cupboard for example is a spot an item could be placed.

  2. Characterise each card: The King of hearts might be “Julius Caesar” and the 3 of clubs might be “eating a sandwich”.

  3. Make an image for each character: Translate each card into a mental image of their character.

  4. Put the images into your memory palace: Pairs of images are placed in the 26 locations of their memory palace. For example, if the first two cards are the King of Hearts and the 3 of Clubs, the competitor might visualize Julius Caesar eating a sandwich on the bottom step of their house.

  5. Retrieval: Now it's showtime! The competitor visualises a walk through their memory palace, seeing each of the images they placed and translating those images back into the corresponding cards.


Whilst this method seems hard, like anything, it becomes incrementally easier. It takes random information and makes it more memorable. A deck of cards is unstructured information and the construction and placement of items in the memory palace takes raw data and makes it into an interesting story imbued with interest, emotion and storytelling that has humour.


What we can learn from Advertisers?


Advertisers get rewarded for making messages unforgettable. What techniques do they use?

  1. Storytelling: Advertisers don't sell you general they sell you specific. We can relate to and remember stories better than facts. "Romeo and Juliet" is much more memorable than "Two young people in love". There is a reason why cultures, religions and nations use parables and stories to convey their messages and morals.

  2. Emotion: Strong emotions, whether positive (like happiness or inspiration) or negative (like fear or sadness), are more memorable. Surprise, humour and novelty are also eye-catching in adverts. I have included a link from a tango advert below that was brilliant in this respect.

  3. Simplicity: Use concise and simple language. Nike’s “Just Do It” is a great example of three words with one syllable. It doesn't mean much to me, but it's so memorable.

  4. Rhythm and sound: Our brains can remember rhyming and other patterns more easily. Most songs to young children are the form of rhymes e.g. twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.

  5. Visuals: A striking or unusual image can make an ad or a piece of writing more memorable. An example is a historical timeline of the development of the personal computer. Arranging the data points from earliest to latest in a diagram is an easier thing to remember.

  6. Invoking the senses: If I am hearing French music, I am much more likely to be put in a French frame of mind. This is much more likely to result in me ordering the delicious cheese baguette.


What can we get from that

Memory competitors and marketers remind us that organised information can land more easily in our memory.

  • A story or a well organised flow takes us on a memorable journey

  • Simple language used with rhyme and emotion is pleasing to us

  • Familiar places are more easily remembered than unfamiliar and complex ideas

  • Images are more much more memorable than words.

What are cues and why are they important?


'Cues' are trigger to retrieval of memories. Cues can be internal, such as a feeling or thought, or external, such as a smell or a image. Some cues are only effective when you are in certain environments whilst others are more influenced by your physical or emotional state.


How do we practically ‘make things stick’


How can we try and emulate the experts in making things memorable?


Structuring information


1) Mind Maps: Organize information visually in a structured way. An example is a sprawling visual where you have a central thesis, surrounded by key topics and then shoots from them. The shoots breaking down key topics. This helps create a frame on which to put new information.


2) Diagrams: Use a simple diagram, or a flow chart or something that organises the data to help capture a number of related effects in a logical way.


3) Storytelling: Weave the information into a coherent narrative or story. The structure of the story can help you remember the order of the information. An example is the carbon cycle, where a theoretical atom of carbon is absorbed by a plant and then eaten by a human, and then released again after respiration. The story of a specific atom, is much more memorable than the general transfer of carbon


Use of language


4) Mnemonics and rhymes: Create associations to aid memory. For example to this day I still sometimes use "Never eat shredded wheat" to help me remember the points of a compass, or BODMAS (brackets, orders, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction) for the order of maths operations. For rhymes, I still use "30 days have September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 except February alone"


5) Analogies and Metaphors: Relating new information to something you already understand through analogies and metaphors can make it more memorable. When doing Biology high school exams, I used the analogy that a cell is like a factory, and the various roles that the nucleus, mitochondria, cell membrane used to play.


6) Keep it simple: Shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs. Spaced out text and bullet points help make things more memorable. It also makes you put it in your own words which is a huge test of understanding. Good notes do not ever have ‘aforementioned’ in it. Never. Not once.


7) Humour and Emotion: Whilst it's easier said than done to add humour to revision, it does help. I remember thinking about DNA as a cookbook or imaginary numbers in Maths as imaginary friends.


So what? Here are three take-aways before we pick it up next week:

  1. Memory techniques, such as the "memory palace" used by memory competitors, can significantly enhance our ability to remember things by organizing it into a compelling narrative filled with vivid, emotional, humorous imagery. In doing so, raw and unstructured data is transformed into something much more memorable.

  2. Advertisers use a variety of techniques to make their messages stick, including storytelling that invokes specific and relatable scenarios, invoking emotions, and utilizing simple, rhythmic, and visually striking language.

  3. To take advantage of these insights for our own learning we can structure information through mind maps and diagrams, use mnemonics, rhymes and analogies in simple, and emotional language. The goal is to create more retrievable memories by crafting cues that trigger the recall of the information stored in our minds.

Thank you for joining. Next blog in the learning series - 'How to remember longer term'. Sign up to the subscription list on Blog | Deciders (hartejsingh.com) Other blogs in the learning series: Why do we learn? (hartejsingh.com) The 5 steps of learning (hartejsingh.com) Creating curiosity (hartejsingh.com) How to learn intensely (hartejsingh.com)

The tango advert:

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