Improving The Annual Meeting Experience By Strolling Down [Semantic] Memory Lane

You’ve got 15 minutes to dash into your favorite hardware store and purchase some finishing nails for a project.

You know exactly where they are as you’ve walked passed them many times. As you enter the store a sense of dread overwhelms you. The management has rearranged the products and aisles. You look up and sigh in relief that each aisle is labeled with a large sign to help you navigate the big box store.

You just accessed your semantic memory lane.

Five Memory Lanes
Just like the hardware store aisles, your brain has at least five distinct memory lanes: automatic, emotional, episodic, procedural and semantic. These lanes store information gathered through the senses in specific parts of the brain.

The challenge for meeting professionals is to provide conference and event experiences that intentionally access as many different memory lanes as possible. Providing experiences that cause attendees to use the automatic, episodic and procedural lanes as well as the emotional lane can create long-term, lasting memories. Accessing the semantic memory lane is the most commonly used process in conferences and events and the most challenging to use effectively.

Let’s take a look at improving annual meeting experiences by strolling down the semantic memory lane.

Semantic Memory
Semantic memory stores memories of words in the hippocampus.  We hear and see semantic information from lectures, movies, PowerPoint presentations, reading and most importantly, words. Most conference presentations rely heavily on semantic memory.

When the brain senses that new incoming information is factual, it triggers the hippocampus to search its files for matching information. Semantic memory is fueled by associations, comparisons and similarities. If the new information connects to previous information, it’s sent to another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, to sort and sift the old and new material. If it finds a connection to older material, it may be added to form long-term memory.

The challenge with semantic memory is that the information must be processed in several ways. Often conference participants try to retain words and facts in short-term and working memory instead of accessing semantic memory. The downside of semantic memory is that the process must be repeated several times before long-term memory is formed.

Tips For Engaging Conference Semantic Strategies
Because strolling down the semantic memory lane relies on working memory and operates word by word, it requires the most effort. Here are seven tips to help conference and meeting attendees to build semantic memories.

1. Ask speakers to present information in short chunks.
The brain needs time to process the information after hearing each short chunk of information. Segment presentations into ten-minute vignettes anchored with a story at the beginning and the opportunity to connect to previously learned information at the end. After each chunk, take a break and let attendees process the information with each other.

2. Encourage speakers to provide semantic hooks in their presentations.
Semantic hooks connect the new information to past information through allegories, associations, comparisons, contrasts and similarities.

3. Intentionally schedule adult white-space informal learning opportunities.
Remember semantic memory is about words. Scheduling time for attendees to use their words to discuss a topic causes them to summarize new points, explain associations and draw from other factual memories already stored in the semantic memory lane. 

4. Promote the use of graphic organizers.
Mind mapping and webbing paint powerful images in the brain. They help breakdown concepts and processes into smaller chunks that the semantic memory can easily store. Presenters can provide template mind maps with missing information for participants to complete.

5. Use peer teaching strategies.
Have attendees pair with each other and take turns re-teaching or sharing how they will apply the information they just learned. This gives participants the opportunity to evaluate and synthesize material.

6. Ask participants to paraphrase or summarize important information.
Ask attendees to write a one-sentence summary or paraphrase of the most important point to them. Then ask them to share those sentences in small groups of ten or less. The repetition helps solidify the information within the semantic memory.

7. Use mnemonic devices like acronyms, acrostics, peg systems and rhymes to learn new information.
Many people may recall Roy G Biv as the way to remember the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet. These methods help place information in both automatic and semantic memories. Encourage speakers to use mnemonic devices or ask participants to create them during specific presentations.

Most semantic strategies create word and text anchors that place the information in other memory lanes as well. Providing this dual lane strategy helps ensure long-term memory recall and learning. Ultimately, that makes your conference or event unforgettable.  

What are some other semantic strategies you’ve used successfully in the past? What have you seen done at conferences or events that engaged the semantic memory lane?

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  2. […] divide memory into semantic versus episodic. Semantic memory accesses information based on meaning. Episodic memory is often […]

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