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[A] Podcast: Making Content Memorable

Interview With Dr. Carmen Simon

Attention, memory, and decision-making guidelines for authoring memorable content.

Bio

Dr. Carmen Simon is the Executive Coach and founder of Memzy.

Transcript

Cruce: Hello everybody. I’m at Information Development World with Dr. Carmen Simon, and we’re talking about the impact of content on memory of our customers. How is it that we can make content memorable? Terrific presentation that Dr. Carmen Simon gave just moments ago at the main stage keynote. Dr. Carmen, thank you for joining me today. 

First of all I’d like to start with understanding a little bit about how we get memorable content into the minds of customers. What would you say are the tenants most useful to keep in mind when authoring memorable content? 
 
Dr. Simon: Memorable content is a very complex concept. As you can imagine, there are many variables that impact what people remember, more importantly, variables that impact what people forget. 

There is a concept called the forgetting curve. It’s a theory associated with the scientific formula that reminds us that, whenever exposed to new information, the brain remembers and forgets very fast at first, but that forgetting slows over time. 

As soon as you’re exposed to new information, you forget about 90 percent of it after the first two days, and after a while, the little that you do remember tends to stick a little bit more closely. So the opportunity that exists for all us content creators is not to worry so much about how much people forget, but rather to be in control over that little they remember. 

Let’s use that as a metaphorical percentage, 10 percent, because ultimately it’s impossible to place a strict statistic on how much people remember. And when you’re controlling that 10 percent, then the question is just like you said, how do we make sure that the right 10 percent sticks? 
There’s a continuum that happens in the brain. Usually people forget so much just because they don’t pay attention to begin with. So if we learn how to capture attention, we already solved the battle because attention paves the way to memory. 

Then we also ask, why is it so important that people remember anyway? It’s important to focus on memory, because people make decisions based on what they remember, not based on what they forget. So as any modern communicators, if you learn a little bit more about attention guidelines, memory guidelines and decision making guidelines, it’s those three combined that will get your audiences to spring into action in some way. 
 
Cruce: One thing that really struck me was the power of content from the remarks you made about the placebo effect. Can you describe to our audience what that placebo effect is and how content actually can trigger it? 
 
Dr. Simon: We were talking earlier in the session about placebos. Placebo pills have been receiving such a huge attention from the scientific community just because people are surprised at how potent they are even though they’re fake pills. And neuroscientists have been asking lately, how is that even possible? How is it possible that we take a pill that has no medication and yet that shows impact on people who suffer from anxiety or depression or insomnia or digestive disorders, even in cases of Parkinson’s tremors? 

What they’re noticing is that these pills have the ability to activate brain parts that are responsible for generating beliefs and expectations and our reward center, and technology such as MRI or EEG are helping us pinpoint their neurological foundation of these pills. And it turns out that they’re helping us assess a situation and prepare us for action. 

I was giving the example of when you hear an alarm and you see some smoke, you already know that you should prepare for an escape, and placebo pills do exactly that. They hook into the brain systems and are triggering us to act very quickly and it’s a natural system that we have. 
 
With all of our content for all people creating content out there, the practical guideline to extract from this is that, whenever we hook into existing strong beliefs—for hope or for optimism that may be related to the ethics you were mentioning earlier—and we also give the brain some tools, such as placebo tools, hooking into beliefs and providing tools helps pave the path into action because the brain already has a natural ability to reach the finish line if we give it the resources to go there. 
 
Cruce: So is it fair to say that content is actually impacting the biological organism of the human being? 
 
Dr. Simon: For sure. Any time you’re exposing your audience’s brains to any type of content, you have the opportunity to impact neurochemistry. And that impact can go in one of the two directions. They can immediately establish a connection, immediately establish trust, and when it does, there certain chemicals that are released in the brains, such as oxytocin or dopamine. Those are chemicals that lead to a stronger bond therefore more possibility for action.

Sometimes you’re going the other direction where content and exposure to it creates distrust, and as a result, the centers of the brain that release chemicals that lead to something good are now closed and the amygdala takes over which assess a situation and asks, should I be fearful of this? Should I be protecting myself? What should I do next? As a result, we’re not so open to the next move. So be cautious when you create any kind of content and wonder, what chemicals do I have the opportunity now to trigger in the brain? That’s all in your pen, in your hands. 
 
Cruce: So that is amazing. There’s this biochemical reality that we’re actually working with when we author content. We’re aligning our content with the receiver who is transforming that into a lived reality in some way. So that almost becomes biochemical engineering, really. Content is biochemical engineering. Is there an ethical framework for use of content as a biochemical tool? 
 
Dr. Simon: As we learn more from neuroscience—and it’s a field that has been progressing so much in the past decade, as I was mentioning in the keynote—we used to know 30 regions of the brain, now we know more than 300. We’re definitely far away from knowing everything, because the technology, while it has advanced is not perfect. Some of these brain imaging technologies for instance, they can go fairly deep, but not very far. 

Some of them don’t capture things fast enough. This biochemistry that you’re talking about happens sometimes in the brain so fast that currently we don’t have any technology to really capture that speed. So by the time you have already thought of something, we don’t know that is that the right image that we have captured in your brain, because it may have been too late, but we are making great progress. 

There are some guidelines we can use, and of course we would hope that whoever is using these guidelines uses them for a good purpose, not for a bad purpose, because you can go in any direction. That’s why there is such a fine line between persuasion and manipulation, because you have the responsibility now to put in people’s minds thoughts that serve them well. 
 
Using these guidelines, we know we can impact memory, for instance. There are MRI studies that literally and physically show the birth of a memory. That’s huge. And if we know that we can control memories, then we have to ask, are we placing the right memories in people’s minds? It’s a big responsibility. We would hope then, as with any neuroscience based guidelines, you’re thinking, what do I want people to act on next? Remember, people act on what they remember not on what they forget, so if you’re placing memories in someone’s brain, the second step to ask after that is, what will they act on and is that tied to something that helps us to evolve versus something that destroys us? 
 
Cruce: Use our content forces for good. That’s great. I see that. I wonder also if we can bridge to the concept of delivery teams for content and how well formed, psychologically aligned content can get created. Is it a matter of educating content authors or changing our content process? How do we actually start to integrate some of your lessons into our teams? 
 
Dr. Simon: I’m enjoying this question because we’re talking about memory and we’re talking about the responsibility that we have for placing ethical memories in people’s minds. 

What that means is you as a content creator have to remember to apply some of these guidelines that we’re preaching. We were saying earlier to make sure that you learn how to get people’s attention, because that’s what paves the way to memory, that is a guideline. But at the point of creation, we still have to remember that we learn something in the past and that we should apply it for good reasons. 

This is how memory happens. Lately I’ve been writing a lot about this concept called prospective memory. Prospective memory is remembering to act on future intentions. It is different than retrospective memory which simply means reminiscing on the past. Prospective memory is a lot better to study for all of us in business, because that means if people remember to do what you tell them to do at a future state, we all evolve and we all stay in business. 

As you’re talking about teams and people getting together and following some processes, that means you’re telling them to do something at point A, but you remember that they will remember it and act on it at point B. That’s how prospective memory happens. And what happens really at point B, when they’re in the future now, first they are supposed to notice some cues and that will remind them of what they’re supposed to do. So as you investigate your own teams and processes constantly wonder, okay I have some guidelines. Do I have enough queues that will remind people of what to do at point B? Only then they could research their memories. That’s where retrospective memories comes into place. 

Also, then they hopefully act on intentions, which is the third piece that completes the puzzle. It’s not just about memory, it’s about building enough cues to trigger memory and also making the decision easy to act on. 
 
Cruce: So there really is a strategic component, and then there’s a content author experience structure component as well to actually delivering. What’s the right modifier? Is it memory-enhanced content or what kind of content do you create that others don’t? 
 
Dr. Simon: I would say it’s a combination of memorable and actionable content, because it’s not sufficient for somebody to remember what you told them. The aspiration is that they act on what they remember, and sometimes people are missing that gap. 

Let’s just say that you’re doing the right things right now and you’re capturing people’s attention. You’re doing the right things and you’re staying in people’s minds and you’re controlling that metaphorical 10 percent, but do they do something with it? That's that missing piece. So as you’re reflecting on your own content, ask, what will it take for people to act on their memories? 
 
Cruce: That’s a beautiful coda, and I’d love to also just get your perspective on content modeling as an approach to creating actionable, memorable content. 

When we’re creating structured content, we often break our content down into pieces and parts, title, subhead, body, author and then into further pieces like, synopsis and mobile version of other contents. So we’ve got a content model that is reflecting different parts of a customer’s experience with our organization by breaking our overall messages into parts. 

Does content modeling have a place in the production of memorable content? Is there a way to approach memorable content through the actual structure of that content? 
 
Dr. Simon: I like your definition of content modeling and this idea of breaking things into smaller parts. Those smaller parts feel juicy to the brain just because you’re giving it the illusion at least that it can be something that’s mastered, because obviously it’s a lot easier to control or master something small versus something that is large. And from that regard, you’re giving the brain this ability to think, I can control what happens next. 

This is what we were talking about earlier, being able to predict the future. You can predict better if you have smaller components, but the caution remark that I would have is that, as you’re breaking thing into smaller parts, memory is created based on associations and links between parts. It is okay to chunk, but be cautious about having chunks that don’t have very obvious links between them. 

If you’re not helping the brain to make the leap as to how does part A, link to part B, link to part C, then we’re missing out on that component that I was mentioning earlier in terms of queues, because, how does memory happen anyway? Somebody says something and that reminds you, “Oh, I have to go and stop by the store,” and then the word store is now in your mind. Then you’re thinking, “Oh, store. I should be storing my boxes somewhere,” and then the word box comes into your mind. Then you’re thinking, “Oh, I should be doing a little bit of cleaning later on.” So just be cautious as you divide and deconstruct, you’re still giving the brain some links between those parts. 
 
Cruce: I love your work, and every one of your talks I’ve seen builds on a map. I’m looking forward to maybe taking some of your longer courses. How do listeners get a hold of you and discover more about your work? 
 
Dr. Simon: If you go to www.reximedia.com and you access the workshops section, that’s where we have the workshop that we provide listed. Rexi comes from the Latin word to direct or to guide, therefore the name of our company, and we advocate that in any of these workshops or sessions that you attend, you learn how to guide your own audience’s attention, impact their memory and guide to action. 
 
Cruce: Thank you Dr. Carmen Simon for joining me at Information Development World, it’s been a terrific 15 minute conversation and I look forward to seeing you again. 
 
Dr. Simon: Excellent. Thank you so much.


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