Constructing Memory

A few tips for making important everyday information more memorable.

Just like your organization tries to attract and retain talent, good communication should attract attention and help the audience retain important information. 

In a previous post, I offered some tips for attracting attention. 

Here, I focus on helping your audience retain the information you send them and then retrieve that information for later use. 

Dual-Process Theory

To design communications that improve the retention and retrieval of information, a little understanding of how memory works can help.

In short, memory relies on two types of thinking: System 1 and System 2. This is known as the dual-process theory.

System 1 is where more routine, unconscious thinking happens. It’s fast, automatic, everyday.

System 2 is more conscious and problem-based. It’s slow, intentional, complex.

When I was learning to play guitar, forming a chord was like a Twister game for my fingers. It required conscious thought, focus and effort. That’s System 2. Once I mastered a chord, playing it became effortless (cognitively speaking). That’s System 1. Once a chord was handled by System 1 thinking, I could weave it naturally into a song or do other intellectually demanding things simultaneously, like read lyrics. 

To make information you deliver today useful in the future, think of that information as though it were a skill, like learning to play guitar or ride a bike. The right information has to be mastered so it can be woven later into the audience’s thoughts and actions.

What Do We Want Where?

If you think across the employee experience, you might be able to pick out which steps or behaviors should be System 1 (what people need to remember) and which should be System 2 (what or how people ought to think).

Here are a few examples. 

 System 1 (automatic, from memory)System 2 (analytical, critical, deliberate)
I need to make changes to my 401(k) account.Knowing what app to use.Selecting investment options. 
I need to complete a performance review.Knowing what website or form to access.Providing constructive feedback. 
I’m stressed out.My company offers mental health services.Reaching out to the appropriate service.

How to Make it Memorable

Knowing certain types of information by rote can help employees be more self-reliant, cutting down on confusion, phone calls and wasted time. This can be measurably valuable to both the employee and the employer. 

Here are some tips for making everyday information more memorable. 

  1. Involve the senses. Clients often ask us to help make their information “more visual.” That’s good. How something looks is important to the way it is perceived, understood and retrieved. But the brain uses all of the body’s senses to gather information, so how something sounds, what it means and how it feels are also important to forming strong, useful memories. (And, don’t forget about our sense of smell.)
  2. Make your audience practice. Our short-term memory can usually hold 5 to 9 things for 15 to 30 seconds. You can help your audience remember something for a longer period of time by making them practice it. For example, if you’re trying to acquaint users with a new website, don’t rely on a single email with a link to do the trick. Parse out information and details over time and give your audience numerous valid and relevant reasons to access that site.
  3. Use consistent verbal and visual cues. According to psychology research, retrieval of information is generally better given similar contextual clues. The context can include the person’s surroundings, mood and emotions. You can provide the right clues by repeatedly presenting the same information in a consistent way. This is why we generally stress the importance of establishing visual and verbal guidelines for communications. They promote recognition and, hence, recall. 
  4. Frame the information. In communication, framing is packaging a message in a way that encourages certain interpretations over others. This can help your audience process information quickly by winnowing the number of possible interpretations they consider before reaching a conclusion. Consider how the following statements, though similar, provide different frames and how these distinct perspectives might influence one’s behaviors.

“We have inherited the earth from our ancestors.”

“We have been loaned the earth by our children.”

Let’s Connect

Are you struggling to create communication that attracts attention and helps your employees retain important information? Maybe we can help. We’d love to hear from you. 

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