How Good is Your Memory?

memoryAccording to Edgar Dale with the Cone of Learning, if you are an adult you remember:

20% of what you hear (i.e. a teacher telling lesson)

70% of what you say (i.e. you repeating back what you learned)

90% of what you say and then do (i.e. you create and give a demonstration)

This data reinforces what we already know:  the more senses that we use when we associate with something, the more connections we have to the memory to retrieve it.


Another study suggests that we remember:

12 ½ – 20% of what we read (i.e. a book)

40% of what we hear (i.e. an audio book)

60% of what we see and hear together (i.e. you tube video)

80% if we interact with the media (i.e. video game)

Although the second set of numbers is different from the first set, the trend is still the same.  Both studies suggest that in learning or non-learning environments, the more senses that we use, the more that we retain in memory.  Our enjoyment factor also is enhanced by bringing in more senses.

All very interesting, but what does this have to do with communication skills?  Well if you know these “rules” you can use them to best advantage in a relationship to make sure that your important points get across.  If you simply tell something to someone that you want them to remember, there’s only a 20 to 40% chance that they will actually remember it.  So if it’s really important to you that they remember, you might want to add a few more senses to boost their memory retention.

What most people do instead is to repeat it several times, “Are you going to remember what I just told you?”, “Yes”, “Are you sure you’re going to remember?”, “I said I would.”, “Somehow I just don’t get the feeling that you’re going to remember…”, “I’ll remember already – stop nagging me about it!”  This just proves annoying and actually not helpful for remembering.

How about if you write it down and give the person a note to take with them?  Is that helpful?  Since you wrote it and they didn’t, the person that needs to remember would be better served to write the note themselves, hitting a couple of senses.  And if you dictate what to write out loud slowly and they then put the note somewhere where they will see it later that’s most helpful.

Visual memory aids should be used as much as possible.  But usually we’re too proud to resort to such tricks, saying “I’ll remember – I have a great memory” then we move on and wonder why we forgot!  Giving ourselves in advantage with the memory aid should be par for the course in this hectic, hustle bustle world we live in today.  Post-it notes on your steering wheel, a box to be mailed right in front of the door, even the old-fashioned string on the finger are all good examples of things purposefully out of place to remind us to do something.

A routine is also a memory help.  Where did you leave your keys?  If you’re in the habit of always putting them on the hook instead of wherever you drop them you will always know where they are when you need them. When my son was young he was forever misplacing his school book bag.  I tried to help but he would not get into the habit of putting his book bag in one designated place when he came home from school.  Habits can be so hard to break, especially when not developing the habit results in negative attention, which is better than no attention at all.  Once that was recognized as the real problem, the solution of withdrawing attention on the undesirable behavior and letting the logical consequence follow solved the problem.


COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Rather than getting frustrated and angry at people for not remembering what you clearly communicated, instead help them to remember by thinking to attach your important information to as many senses as possible – sing it in a song? Have it written on crazy paper?  If it’s very important, go a little nuts since outlandish, which is the definition of being out of place, is most memorable.

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