Have you ever lost your keys? Your wallet? Your cell phone? Your favorite pen?
I have. Well, I didn’t really lose them. I just forgot where I put them.
I have a ritual of walking into my house and always placing my keys, wallet, favorite pen and cell phone in the same spot. That way I always know where they are.
But every now and then, they aren’t where they are supposed to be. They seem to have vanished.
I’ve noticed that if I walk into my home and my hands are full, I may unintentionally put them down along with the other items in my hands. Or if my mind is distracted with something important and I neglect to follow my usual routine, I’ll put my keys and wallet in an obscure place. Or if my phone rings as I enter the house, I get distracted and set them down.
So what do I do when I’ve lost my keys? I’ve already tried using my automatic memory (see below for more info). I failed my automatic memory by not following my regular routine of placing them in the same spot.
Maybe my episodic memory will work. I go back to where I last remember having my keys, wallet and cell phone in my hand. That location may help me remember.
Or I try retracing my steps by using my procedural memory. I pick up anything I had with me, go out to my car and start over. I walk the same path again hoping that helps me find them.
As a last resort, I may access my semantic memory and use my higher order thinking skills. “What could I have done with my keys? Did I drop them by accident? Are they in the grass, on my porch, in my mailbox? If I were a set of keys, where would I be?”
I may become rather emotional if I can’t find my keys, wallet and cell phone although my emotional memory won’t help much in finding them. But, we all recall the emotional experience of losing our wallet and trying to find it, right? That emotional highjack triggered by our amygdala is hard to forget.
This scenario illustrates how our five long-term memory lanes can be used to recall information. The challenge for conference and meeting organizers is to design event and education that access these five memory lanes to increase learning and retention.
The Five Memory Lanes
Much like the aisles of our favorite department store, the brain has memory lanes that act as file cabinets storing experiences, facts and learning from an event. For learning to be permanent, it has to follow specific paths or lanes to be stored. Unfortunately, our brain is not like a recorder that stores all the specific details. The information is filtered by our brains, interpreted and stored in various parts of our brain. It’s not as easy as rewinding and hitting play to get an accurate account of what happened.
The brain has at least five memory lanes—automatic, emotional, episodic, procedural and semantic—that can be used for permanent storage of information. Some neuroscientists have identified additional lanes as well. Let’s take a look at three of those memory lanes.
Brain presenter Eric Jensen refers to automatic memory as conditioned response memory. Specific stimuli automatically trigger the memory or information that is stored in the cerebellum.
It could be a song playing. As soon as you hear the first few notes, your brain acts as the game show Name That Tune, and you begin to sing the song.
The alphabet, multiplication tables, and your ability to decode words are a few things that you’ve already stored in your automatic memory. Your ability to read–not to comprehend–is stored there as well.
Tips to create automatic memories in meetings and events
- Music, music, music. Change the lyrics to a popular tune and make them about your event or an important theme. Ask attendee’s to create their own pop tune remixes about the upcoming event and share them via audio or video recording.
- Use repetition and oral conditioning (teach attendees to say out loud a phrase every time a specific word is used).
- Use quiz and game shows during sessions.
Episodic memory deals with location and is sometimes referred to as contextual or spatial memory. This memory lane is stored in the hippocampus which stores factual information. This memory lane associates learning with a location.
For example, “Where were you when learned about the September 11 terrorist attacks?” If you’re like me, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. You can even recall who was with you at that time.
To use episodic memory effectively takes some thought, energy and creativity. Focus on the fact that the brain likes novelty and is intrigued by it.
Tips to create episodic memories in meetings and events
- Create unusual and quirky environments. Allow presenters to hang signs, pictures, posters and use up lighting in their presentation rooms.
- Accessorize! It might sound childish, but it works. Ask your emcee and presenters to use accessories when appropriate during their presentations. Hats, scarves, masks, costumes enhance the learning experience and episodic memory lane.
- Create untraditional meeting environments. Get out of that boxed venue room. Take it to the tradeshow floor, outdoors or even into the hallways. The more eclectic the better.
- Use a variety of informal seating options from couches, lounge chairs, chaise to exercise balls.
Emotional memory and tips to creating emotional event memories were discussed here.
Information from procedural memory, often called the muscle memory, is stored in the cerebellum. Once a procedure becomes routine, such as the ability to ride a bike, it is stored. Your ability to drive, roller blade, ski, and skip are stored as procedural memories.
Tips to create procedural memories in meetings and events
- Use repetition of procedures (such as how to use to a CRM system) to create a strong long-term memory pathway.
- Create some meeting rituals, such as when people enter a general session, they are to find one person they don’t know and introduce themselves. Or before leaving this session, find one person and tell them how you’ll implement something you learned.
- Ask attendees to invent a procedure for specific learnings that they will use when they return to their office. Have them write it down. The repetition of the procedure will help create a long-term memory.
In the next post, we’ll cover the semantic memory, the most used mental strategy in conferences and events.
A basic understanding of our brains and its memory lanes can help conference and event organizers provide great experiences that increase recall and learning. Using specific mental strategies will help attendees create powerful and relevant learning experiences that are easier to recall and apply.
What are some of your most memorable conference or event experiences that tapped one of the memory lanes? What tips would you add to these to help access emotional, episodic, procedural and semantic memories?