This bookshelf can only hold a certain number of books. When the bookshelf is at capacity with one row of books, we might try stacking more books on top and creating a second row. Eventually, the bookshelf gets to its maximum load and no more weight can be added otherwise the shelf will break.
Now imagine these books as nuggets of information. If we need to add more to an already full bookshelf, we need to remove some items to create room for new ones. Studies suggest that our brain capacity isn’t infinite. In our mind, things will be taken off the shelf when new information needs to be retained. When our minds are full, things on our to-do list might be overlooked or lost – respond to that email, call that person back, pay that bill. The mind only has so much capacity before it becomes overloaded, forgetful, stressed out and no longer effective.
Such is the nature of the digital age in which we live, all-day every-day our concentration is ruptured by emails, buzzing phones and the supervision of multiple screens.
New research published by Nature Communications found that these unexpected events interrupt what you were thinking at that moment, as well as your cognition and ability to remember. This was an important role when humans were often faced with real danger and needed our fight or flight response, but today it has mostly negative consequences.
A 2014 study by the British unit of advertising buyer, OMD, found that the average person shifts their attention between their smartphone, tablet and laptop around 21 times every hour. So, when we are creating content in the design phase we must have a broader awareness of any possible intellectual triggers based on who we are talking to. In many cases, to put it bluntly, you are up against some tough competition, with most of your guests having the compulsive urge to check their screens. Many argue this is the result of a dopamine-loop addicted society, but that is a discussion for another time.
So why would brands invest in creating content that is just going to be forgotten?
Cognitive Neuroscientist, Dr.Carmen Simon, has spent the last decade researching what makes content memorable, and champions the notion that memory is a requisite for both business success and for being at the forefront of your customer’s mind: “Combining neuroscience and cognitive psychology gives us clues about where attention is processed in the brain, how memories are formed, and how decisions are made.This information can be used for practical applications, such as making content memorable and actionable”.
Dr. Simon talks about creating triggers that exist in your customers’ environments and revive their memory related to your products. For example, if your customer use a specific software every day, link your ideas to that software so each time they see it, they will be prompted to remember you, even though you’re not in front of them anymore. According to research, 90% of content is forgotten (I suggest you see Carmen’s INBOUND presentation video below for some insights), so it is really important to find ways to stay on people’s minds.
A wonderful example of content triggers is the advertisement by Dove below, ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ explores the gap between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. This is a beautifully constructed piece in its simplicity and truth, which has powerful triggers such as self reflection, but importantly perception and judgement – which we all do on a daily basis, often unconsciously.
I believe that Dr Simon’s work rings so true in many areas of event management. We are trying to create something memorable for clients and guests every single time. Clients will spend an awful lot of money on flights, accommodation, food and beverage, and the least amount of time on the content and the messaging. These costs are essentially meaningless unless your presentation creates long-lasting memories in the minds of the guests, when you are no longer in the same room with them. I have seen ill-considered content from clients and wonder how they think it will connect, resonate and effect who they are talking to in the future.
In Dr. Simon’s new book Impossible to Ignore, there are fascinating chapters on the business approach to memory, directing what audiences will remember, how to ensure your message is repeatable and how exactly the brain decides what stays on the mind-shelf and what does not.
Carmen goes on to say that “the concept of prospective memory is gathering momentum because scientists are observing that 60–80% of the memory problems we have are not about forgetting the past—they are about forgetting the future.”
For me when designing content for a presenter there are two questions that must be asked 1. “Who are we talking to?” and 2. “What effect do you want to have on your audience in the future?” This gives me the framework upon which to build relevant content that is not only meaningful in the moment, but is memorable long after the presentation has been delivered. Knowing who you’re talking to and what their triggers are enables a greater opportunity of crafting and immersing those into a presentation. But this approach does not just apply to the single presentation, it applies to the whole event ecosystem.
You can connect with Carmen here and visit her website here.