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6 Ways to Get Others to Remember What You Tell Them

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Shockingly, research1 shows that after an hour, people typically forget approximately half of the information shared with them. Within a day, they’ve forgotten about 70% of it. By the end of a week? They typically forget a whopping 90%.

That’s a lot of forgetting! But don’t despair, by utilizing certain unique strategies, you can ensure that the crucial information you share with others is remembered, boosting productivity at work, enhancing relationships, and more. Let’s delve into how.

Why Do People Forget What I Tell Them?

People tend to forget many things—the reasons behind it can vary, from stress and sleep deprivation to information overload.

Famed German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, dedicated his research to understand this phenomenon. He developed the concept of the “forgetting curve,” describing how memory retention diminishes over time.

An image of a line graph with memory on the y axis and time remembered (days) on the x axis. The line is at the top on the far left, and then as it moves down the x axis is swoops down in a U shape until it is right on the x axis on the far right side. This refers to the  “forgetting curve,” describing how memory retention diminishes over time.

So, why do people forget what we tell them? It’s not because they’re negligent or inattentive. Actually, forgetting is an integral part of how memory works.

Here’s why:

  • Memory Fading: Imagine a piece of paper in the sun. If left there long enough, the colors start to fade. Similarly, if people don’t revisit or think about the information, it begins to fade from memory. This can explain why they might struggle to recall details of a story you told them weeks ago.
  • Information Overload: An excess of information can muddy our memories. Old information can get mixed up with new, making recall difficult. Like when someone learns your new phone number and suddenly can’t remember the old one.
  • Lost Memory: Sometimes, the memory just can’t be located in the mind. It’s as if the memory is hidden in a box in the attic, but the person can’t recall which box they put it in. For example, they might struggle to remember the name of a movie you recommended, even though they intended to watch it.
  • Choosing to Forget: Occasionally, people subconsciously opt to forget things that induce discomfort or negative feelings. They may avoid thinking about a stressful meeting or an unpleasant conversation to safeguard their emotional well-being.

While forgetting can be frustrating, it’s actually a normal part of memory. However, it becomes problematic when the forgotten information was intended to be remembered.

5 Strategies to Ensure Others Remember What You Tell Them

Making information stick doesn’t have to be challenging! Try these effective strategies to boost others’ memory skills.

Make a Post-it

It’s time to bring back an old-school, yet highly effective tool—the humble Post-it note.

Be it an important meeting, a task at the grocery store, or a critical point to remember for a phone call, Post-it’s are great for these!

Why a Post-it note, you ask? Research2 suggests that writing information down can aid memory retention. Plus, Post-it’s are tangible, super customizable, and of course, people can take them everywhere they go (and thus remember what’s written on it more!).

So, the next time you need someone to remember something, don’t just tell them—write it down on a Post-it note and hand it over.

Use the “Teach Back” Method

In essence, the “Teach Back” method involves asking someone to repeat the information back to you in their own words.

Essentially, once you’ve told someone what you want them to know, ask them to summarize what you’ve told them (in a nice way, of course). Use open-ended, non-judgmental phrases such as, “Could you summarize what we’ve just talked about, to ensure I’ve explained it clearly?” If they’ve missed out any key points or misunderstood something, gently correct them and provide the right information.

Here is the method in a super simple example:

Convey Information: “Jane, our team meeting will be at 10 am in Conference Room B tomorrow.”

Ask for Summary: “Could you quickly repeat back when and where our meeting will be?”

Jane’s Teach Back: “Sure, we’re meeting at 10 am tomorrow in Conference Room B.”

Space it out

Roger Craig, a Jeopardy champion, used a learning and memorizing method called spaced repetition to memorize answers. Spaced repetition is a method that involves reviewing information at increasing intervals over time.

Instead of dumping a ton of information onto someone at once, break it up into chunks and review them repeatedly over a period. This technique is based on the idea that we learn more effectively when learning is spread out, allowing for better retention and recall of information.

If we effectively use spaced repetition, our memory and recall might look more like this (green lines indicate using the spaced repetition technique, red line indicates not using it):

An image of a line graph with memory on the y axis and time remembered (days) on the x axis. There is a red line swooping down from left to right, and then three consecutive green lines doing the same but each one isn't  going as far down on the y axis as the other. The green lines  represent a learning and memorizing method called spaced repetition to memorize answers.

The next time you’re imparting a decent chunk of info, such as when delegating a task, consider spacing it out. Here’s how:

  • Break Down Your Information: Divide the task or information into manageable sections. You could break it up based on the key points or steps required to complete the task.
  • Set a Review Schedule: Begin by reviewing each section immediately after you share it. Then, you might want to consider reminding them again at the end of the day, then the next day, and so on. Gradually increase the intervals between your reviews. A typical schedule might be immediate, after a handful of hours, after a day, after three days, and after a week.
  • Mix it Up: To keep their brain engaged, don’t just repeat the sections in the same order. Mix them up. This will also help them get better at recalling the parts of the task out of their original sequence, which can be useful if they need to adapt or be flexible.
  • Revise in Different Contexts: Review the information in different environments. This helps to strengthen their memory of the information, as it’s not tied to a specific location.
  • Use Different Techniques: While reviewing, use visual aids, encourage them to take notes, or verbally review the information. Using different methods can help reinforce their memory.

Use images and color

Research shows that larger visuals3 are remembered 50% better than smaller ones, and adding color4 to materials can make content 39% more memorable.

When conveying your points, use big, meaningful images. If you’re giving out notes, consider using different colored pens or markers for different types of information.

Colorful graphs and images > data

For improving your communication, presentation, or leadership skills, check out this:

pointing in photos

Master Your People Skills

  • Create a Memorable Presence
  • Communicate with Confidence
  • Achieve Your Goals

Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.

Limit background noise

In a series of experiments, UK researchers5 discovered that office noise, including speech, can negatively impact tasks that require remembering written information and solving mental arithmetic problems.

Simply put, the hum of a typical office environment might make it harder for your colleagues to recall that crucial detail from the last meeting or promptly crunch numbers for an upcoming presentation.

So, what can you do to limit the impact of background noise? Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Find a Quiet Spot: If possible, try to find a quiet area in your workplace for sharing important information. This could be a seldom-used conference room or even a peaceful corner in your office cafeteria.
  • Designate “Quiet Hours”: Consider discussing with your team about having designated quiet hours, during which everyone agrees to minimize chatter and other noise. This shared quiet time could improve everyone’s focus and recall.
  • Take it Outside: In a busy environment office or outside environment? Try going somewhere quiet in nature to impart information. It could even be a short 10-minute walk to get those brain juices flowing (more on the importance of exercise in the next tip!).
  • Use White Noise: Some people find that a consistent low-level noise, like a fan or white noise machine, can help mask other, more distracting sounds.

Help Others Become Memory Pros

Having read this far, you’re now equipped with actionable tips to help others remember information more effectively. These strategies can be seamlessly incorporated into your interactions to improve others’ memory retention:

  • Make a Post-it Note: Write down what you want someone to remember, and hand them a Post-it note so they can take it wherever they go.
  • Implement the “Teach Back” Method: Ask someone to summarize what you’ve said for clarification and to help them remember the details.
  • Use Spaced Repetition: Break down information into sections and review them at increasing intervals over time. Review immediately, then after a few hours, the next day, and so on.
  • Utilize Visuals and Colors: Larger visuals improve memory retention by 50%, and adding color boosts memorability by 39%. Use larger images and strategic color usage in your presentations and notes.
  • Minimize Background Noise: Office noise can hamper memory retention. Suggest they use noise-canceling headphones, find quieter workspaces, or use white noise to aid focus.
  • Adapt to Their Learning Style: Identify their learning style (visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic) and tailor your communication accordingly. Suggest they reflect on the conversation at the end of the day in a way that suits their learning style.

For further reading on memory, learn why our memory might not be what it seems: The Mandela Effect: What is It (And 51 Interesting Examples)

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