How to Get Your Audience Carmen Simon header

Carmen Simon, PhD, is the author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions. A cognitive scientist, she has helped some of the world’s most visible brands craft memorable messages by focusing on how the brain works. Her sought-after keynote speeches unveil science-based techniques for getting others to see your way, remember your way, and go your way.

Doctor Simon began researching the book Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions. because of an experiment that she did about two years ago. She showed a group of 1500 people a 20 slide PowerPoint presentation and then asked them two days later how much they remember. What surprised her was that about 1/3 of the participants didn’t even remember that they had been to a PowerPoint presentation.

We had a fascinating conversation about memory, marketing and how the brain works. Towards the end of the episode we discussed neuroscience, why it’s important and what we know about how the brain works on a macro level.

Here are just some of the highlights of our conversation.

  • People forget their lives almost as quickly as they live them.
  • You only live in business to the extent that your audience remembers you.
  • Unsurprisingly, paying attention improves memory retention.
  • There are 15 variables we can use to improve other people’s memory.
  • Repetition, emotion, distinctiveness, and familiarity are four factors that improve your audiences memory.
  • Familiarity is important. The brain prefers to conserve energy when possible. So if you can start by giving the brain something it’s familiar with, that allows you to bypass the brain’s filter and help people remember what you have to say.
  • A particularly effective tactic is to start a presentation or story in a way that is familiar to your audience and then gives them something distinctive to jar their expectations. If you surprise people in a familiar setting they are likely to remember it.
  • People remember things in many ways.
  • The brain likes habits because habits reduce the amount of thinking that you have to do.
  • If you appeal to people’s existing habits it’s much easier for you to sell them because they don’t have to learn new routines.
  • When doing a PowerPoint presentation consider what your audience expects. Every audience is different and you want to tailor your PowerPoint presentation to the expectations of your individual audience. Give your audience what they expect.
  • Less is not more when it comes to memory. To create a strong memory you need a maximum amount of stimulation and sensation.
  • Don’t simplify complexity, manage complexity better.
  • You have to earn the right to tell a story in presentations.
  • It’s important to have a good mix of what people expect and the novelty. If you give people too much of what they expect the brain will tune out and think about other things. If you give people too many surprises the brain will be overloaded from stimulation and start thinking about more familiar things.
  • The importance of disrupting the brain’s pattern in order to get more attention.
  • A disruption is an interruption of a pattern the brain has habituated to.
  • Allow the brain to form a pattern first and then disrupt it.
  • Attracting someone’s attention is not that difficult. Keeping attention for a sustained period of time is much more difficult.
  • The brain is capable of paying attention for extended periods of time. Everyone is different and it’s impossible to judge anyone’s individual limit of sustained attention.
  • The brain habituates (or zones out) very quickly to a stimulus that does not change.

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Two Reasons the Brain Zones out

1. The degree of variation within a particular stimulus.
2. The degree of arousal (which is very subjective.)

  • In the past 20 years what has changed is the brain requires more stimulation to maintain attention on the topic being discussed.
  • the more modes of stimulation (think human senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell) that you can put into a presentation of the more memorable and will be.
  • In the 1930s and 40s the average shot length for movies was 10 seconds. Modern movies have an average shot length of 2.4 seconds. This reflects the brain’s need for greater change in its stimuli.
  • Look at your own material and ask yourself this question: How often do I provide a cut for my audience?
  • The stimulus your providing doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is how often you change the stimulus.
  • Think of your presentation as a performance.
  • The longer you want the brain to stay with you, the more changes in stimuli you need to provide.
  • The brain has been designed not to miss anything, so if you can vary stimuli to the brain it will pay attention longer.
  • Science can predict what pictures you will remember.
  • Our memories are not an accurate record of reality. Every time we have a memory we have the ability to change it right then and there.

Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview

Dr. Carmen Simon on Twitter @areyoumemorable

Memzy is Doctor Simon’s company that helps entrepreneurs and presenters create memorable presentations so they can better serve their audience.

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions — Doctor Simon’s book on how to make sure people remember your content.

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