Conference Pivoting: Memory, Remembering, Cues And Mnemonics

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Viewing a conference presenter does not give it much sticking power in the memory to paraphrase cognitive psychologist Dr. Daniel Willingham.

Ouch, that’s certainly smacks at the primary conference education session—the traditional lecture. Viewing a conference lecture, even reviewing its recording later, leads to the illusion that the viewer knows the material because it seems increasingly familiar says Willingham (and the authors of Make It Stick.)

People tend to think that their learning is more complete than it really is says Willingham. Your attendees tend to be more confident in their knowledge than is actually warranted. We must find ways to get them to assess their learning more realistically as well as help them actually learn and remember important information.

Repetition Does Not Have Learning Gains

Repetition, viewing materials several times whether rereading texting or replaying a recording, leads to the illusion that one knows the material says Willingham. Copying notes repeatedly or highlighting text also misleads the learner that s/he knows the information

Sure, repetition, like copying notes repeatedly, is helpful to a degree. However, it only leads to shallow, temporary retention. It is not as helpful as it seems.

Quiz Time

Not sure you agree with Willingham? Take the following quiz as he suggests…

How well do you know what a U.S. penny looks like?

Is “Liberty” written on the front, back or not at all? Is Lincoln wearing a tie? Does he face right or left?

Most people don’t know the details of a penny’s appearance. Yet we’ve seen and handled thousands of them.

Only when one thinks about the meaning of something does it lead to learning and recall. So only when one repeatedly thinks about a penny or the meaning of a conference lecture does it lead to authentic and deep learning.

Think About The Meaning

What remains in your conference attendees’ memory from their experience depends mostly on what they thought about during that experience. It has little to do with what they heard, viewed, tasted or smelled, unless they thought about it.

In other words, slick productions, WOW-like events and amazing food is quickly forgotten if the attendee does not think about it! Remember, as Willingham has said, memory is the residue of thought.

Attendees need to think about the meaning of that experience. They need to ask, “Why is this important to me?”

Best Strategy For Remembering And Meaning

The best strategy conference organizers and presenters can use is to have attendees do a specific task that will force them to think about the meaning. That means giving them dedicated time during each presentation to stop, reflect, think and consider, “So what? So what does this mean to my work?”

And repeat that process two to four times during each presentation. Then the material sticks!

Conference Cues And Mnemonics

So what does an attendee do if they need to recall facts from a conference expert and its actually meaningless material? (Consider some of the data one has to recall to pass a certification exam, sometimes meaningless outdated material.)

Remembering meaningless information is often prompted by cues. Cues help signal the brain to recall the information. Learning something by repetition works well when with paired with cues.

Some of the best cues use memorization strategies called mnemonics. It’s a way to create meaningful relationships between unmeaningful material.

Mnenmonics give audiences something to think about and give meaningless information meaning. I often use mnemonics in my presentations to help audiences hook information. For example I use “brain trumps” or “the power of none, one and two.” I also used words as mnemonics such as EPIC conferences where each letter stands for something specific.

A common mnemonic many of us use is when we create a “b and d” with our fingers to remember which side the bread plate goes on and which side the drink goes on during a meal function.

Wrapping It Up

The best conference organizers know that remembering critical conference information requires time for attendees to think, make meaning of the information, create cues and even use mnemonics. This means working with speakers to create learning experiences that ensure that attendees think about the meaningful stuff and not just consume a passive lecture.

What impact does remembering have on creating memorable conference experiences and what extra steps do we need to take to make those memorable events stick with the right meaningful information? What are some mnemonic techniques that you’ve used to remember information on the job?

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