6 Ways to Overcome the Forgetting Curve
“What did she tell me about that issue when we met this morning? We covered so much. I just can’t remember.”
“My financial advisor sent me something about that recently, but I don’t recall exactly what the article said.”
We’ve all had these kinds of experiences. Information is just on the edge of your memory and nearly impossible to recall, even though you’ve heard or seen it just earlier in the day. Or, you know you’ve read about a subject, but you just can’t remember the details precisely or where the article appeared.
You aren’t alone. Humans forget approximately 50 percent of new information they encounter within an hour and an average of 70 percent within 24 hours, cognitive science expert Art Kohn notes. After a week, he says, that average goes up to 90 percent.
Ever since, teachers, leaders, orators, politicians and business people have been looking for ways to overcome this basic human characteristic and be more memorable. But, our human brains naturally channel out much of the vast river of information that flows in every minute. This function helps us focus on one or two important items and make room for others, according to Kohn.
For leaders, professional service advisors, marketers and communicators, this can be very frustrating. I have seen countless surveys of groups in which the results show the audience has very limited recall of information that project teams and managers feel they have been relentlessly communicating.
Training and education professionals have similar experiences with the content they deliver in school and as part of corporate curriculums. As a result, they’ve developed a range of techniques for helping students improve retention of the information they teach. We as business leaders, professionals, communicators and marketers can learn from their work and translate it to be memorable with our audiences.
Here are six tips for helping your audience overcome the Forgetting Curve:
- Have a focus: Before you create any kind of content, you should be able to express your main point in one or two sentences. If you don’t have that level of clarity, then your audiences won’t either. This includes making sure the complexity of your main theme is appropriate for your audience. Ebbinghaus’ research showed that the difficulty of the content for a person has an impact on memory.
- Space it out: Delivering information in bite-sized pieces over a period of time is a technique used widely by professional educators drawing on the concept of spaced repetition. The approach is the opposite of the “cramming” technique many of us may have used in college which doesn’t support long-term memory recall. For communicators and marketers, this means planning a series to convey a complex message over time rather than putting it all into one blog post, article, executive letter, video or presentation.
- Make a connection: If you have done your homework and know your audience, you can help them reduce the speed of forgetting by connecting your information to something they already know. Draw a parallel between your main point and something that is commonplace for them.
- Say it first, say it last: Ebbinghaus also discovered that information positioned at the beginning and the end of a communication is better remembered. Whether it is a blog post, a presentation or any kind of information delivery, be sure to follow the classic structure of book ending your piece with your most important point.
- Revisit the information frequently: A common technique recommended to university students is to review notes and readings after a class session at frequent intervals. Through this practice, the brain is able to recall the information more quickly each time. In business we can encourage our clients, employees, colleagues and partners to revisit our points by delivering our core themes repeatedly — even when we as creators tire of sending out the same information.
- Deliver it multiple ways: The base shape of the forgetting curve is the same for everyone. Individuals make a difference in their memory abilities by adopting techniques that work for them. So, using a variety of methods to deliver information is critical. We see this in schools with different approaches used for visual, auditory, and hands on learners. In business, we must take a similar approach by delivering our content in a variety of formats from blogs to videos to infographics to slide presentations.
When considering your next content creation effort, help your audiences overcome the Forgetting Curve by using these six tips — and become more memorable as a result.