However, in a business context, being memorable is essential if we want our customers and prospects to act in our favor. After all, people take action based on what they remember, not on what they forget. In her keynote address at the 2019 Digital Experience Summit in Chicago entitled “The Four Habits of Highly Forgettable People,” cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon discusses how insights derived from brain science can help craft business communication that is not only memorable, but drives action.
Simon is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, speaker, author and Stanford University instructor. Using methods and technology grounded in neuroscience, Simon seeks to explain why so much business content is often forgettable and ineffective and what we can do about it. By examining how our brains process information and create memories, Simon arrives at four habits that lead to forgettable content and suggests four simple remedies that will not only attract and keep people’s attention, but ensure they commit key information to memory and take the desired action.
The neuroscience of being memorable
“In order to increase your persuasive power, you have to find ways to stay in other people’s minds long-term,” explains Simon. Using EEG (electroencephalogram) technology, Simon examines the brainwaves that are generated in reaction to various stimuli (e.g., images, videos, presentations, etc.). These brain waves directly correlate to specific mental states, from restfulness and day dreaming to attentive and engaged. And the data shows that when people are exposed to business content, their brain waves often mimic a state of day dreaming and even deep sleep. Obviously, this is a problem. Luckily, Simon’s research also points to a solution.
Habit #1: Creating content that does not attract attention
Too often, we create content that simply doesn’t attract attention. According to Simon, “… our brains are inherently lazy and do not like working too hard, sorting through clutter to discover what is worth paying attention to.” To warrant your audience’s attention, your business content should clearly direct them to where their brains should focus by making it easy to identify what’s important. Avoid hiding key information among peripheral clutter and highlight it with physical properties, such as a special shape, color, size, etc.
To be effective, business content must also clarify the reward for paying attention. What reward is your content offering your audience’s brains? Is the reward valuable enough to command attention? Is it clearly defined? Does it inspire or provide insightful information?
Simon explains that if a reward is perceived as highly valuable, “our brains will produce higher levels of dopamine dopamine drives action.”
Key takeaway: Attract attention by directing your audience’s focus and clarifying the reward.
Habit #2: Not sustaining attention
Simon handily dispels the myth that our attention span is progressively getting shorter. “Our brains have not changed in over 40,000 years. And that includes our attention span,” says Simon. To illustrate her point, Simon asked her audience to think of the last time they binge-watched one of their favorite shows. It appears we are certainly capable of sustained attention, but the stimulus must be rewarding enough.
So, yes, we can pay attention for longer than a New York minute, but how much of any given content do we remember long-term? And why, when it comes to business presentations, do we tend to forget information from slide 2 by the time we get to slide 15? The answer, according to Simon, lies in the fact that “business presentations want to impress with novelty at the expense of linking content to existing elements that are already stored in long-term memory.” Instead, content creators should focus on making new information relatable with information and concepts that audience members are likely already familiar with. That way, new information is more readily understood and committed to long-term memory.
Key takeaway: Make novel information relatable to the audience and frequently change the stimulus to maintain attention.
Habit #3: Abusing abstracts
If the brain is inherently lazy (some would say efficient), it follows that our brains do not like to work overly hard trying to understand abstract concepts. Yet too often, business presentations are loaded with abstract concepts and messaging. Simon insists that “our brain is a sensory, especially visual organ visual stimuli are a much better way to influence somebody’s memory.” Hence the adage “a picture is worth 1000 words.”
Simon continues by stating that, “If we can influence someone’s memory, we are more likely to get them to move in our favor.” Employing visual imagery or using words to paint a picture in the audience’s minds is ultimately more effective than solely relying on abstract messaging to convey ideas and information.
Key takeaway: Balance abstract messaging with relatable, visual imagery to help audiences memorize business content.
Habit #4: Sharing content that looks like everyone else’s content
It goes without saying that if your content is not clearly differentiated, it will get lost among the sameness of everyone else’s. To really stick out, be noticed and, most importantly, be remembered, Simon advises that your content “deviate from a pattern that the brain has learned to expect.” However, it does not need to be wholly unique or entirely different to be effective, because according to Simon, “the brain needs to first detect similarity before it is ready to detect difference.”
Key takeaway: When designing your content, invite some similarity to other related content and then differentiate by deviating from the pattern.
For more insights on producing content, read our recent blog post on “7 new favorite approaches to content marketing.”