Whether you aspire to lead a small team of four people or a massive public company, your first challenge is to rise above being a mere manager who happens to be in charge. Doing this means learning to communicate in such a manner that people not only remember what you say, but also incorporate your ideas into their daily lives.
Last year, I first came across and shared an excellent presentation by Rexi Media, 5 Reasons We Forget Presentations. Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend time with Dr. Carmen Simon, co-founder of that firm. In talking with Carmen, I realized that her ideas have many applications for leaders.
For example, Carmen suggests that the main reason people don’t remember what you said is because they never heard you in the first place. Get up in front of a group of people and drone on and on, and people will be assembling a grocery list in their head while you talk about the vital importance of this quarter’s goals.
To illustrate this point, she asks, “If you were asked which icon is in the lower right corner of your smart phone home screen, would you know for sure?”
We pay attention to a very small portion of what happens around us, and if you can’t capture someone’s attention, you stand no hope of having them remember your words.
One way around this challenge is to use techniques that help people process information more deeply. “If someone told you that the capital of Togo is Lomé,” says Carmen, “You might forget this quickly. But let’s say I asked you to imagine yourself visiting Lomé, in Togo. You meet someone who sweeps you out of your reality: sexy, dangerous, with a sense of the untamed. You make crazy love on the beach, blood roaring through your veins; you get to taste every inch, every texture… Is Lomé getting a bit harder to forget?”
Okay, you might not want to use the crazy love part in your next leadership meeting, but there are many other ways to harness this technique. Carmen shares that you can help people process information deeply “by invoking their senses, asking questions, and provoking conversations. The deeper the processing, the better the memory.”
Here’s another trick you may not use often enough: be quiet.
“Self-generated content leads to better memory,” explains Carmen, but how often do you stop talking and include opportunities for your team to co-create their own interpretation of your vision? For example, the purpose of brainstorming or group discussions is not always to come up with an actionable list of great ideas; such activities can simply serve the purpose of giving team members a chance to generate their own versions of an idea, to ensure that they remember it.
By the way, as Carmen’s presentation illustrates nicely, words alone are not enough. To get your message across, you will need pictures, examples, stories and conversation. Factual and non-participatory doesn’t work. Immersive and interactive does.
By Bruce Kasanoff
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