Stand Out, Speak Up and Be Heard

By Desda Moss Aug 17, 2016
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It's critical to help audiences remember valuable information, especially in business. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions by Carmen Simon, Ph.D. (McGraw-Hill Education, 2016), offers HR professionals specific strategies designed to create memorable messages that are easy to process, hard to forget and impossible to ignore.

While most people are concerned about improving their own memories, Simon argues that what matters most is influencing the memories of others. That's important for HR practitioners to keep in mind when they are communicating with senior leaders, rank-and-file employees and even job seekers.

Anyone who wants to be an effective messenger should focus on the following elements, the book advises, to create precise memories that compel action: distinctiveness, details, storytelling, intense emotion, action cues and anticipation.

Simon suggests that business communicators envision their content as a series of segments (slides in a slideshow, paragraphs in a blog or sections in a training manual, for example). Each segment should incorporate at least seven of the following variables to have the greatest impact:

1. Context. This variable relates to both time and space. The more vividly the place and action are presented to listeners at Point A, the easier it is for them to recall information at Point B.

2. Cues. Cues are reminders that help listeners remember your message even after they are no longer exposed to your content. Providing cues reduces the amount of energy listeners have to expend to remember things on their own.

3. Distinctiveness. If there is a sequence of text-text-text-graphic-text-text, the graphic in the middle stands out. The transition from one stimulus to another must be dramatic enough for an audience to detect that something is distinct from the pattern.

4. Emotion. All content elicits stimuli linked to receiving rewards or avoiding punishments, so tailor your message to trigger an emotional reaction. Evaluate your content on the basis of whether it moves your audience closer or further from the reward or punishment you intend to connect with.

5. Facts. Distinguish content that is abstract and opinion-based (when one employee's morale goes down, everyone else in the office feels down) from information that is factual (30 percent of employees spend two and a half hours a day responding to e-mails). Give greater weight to components that can be known through experience or observation.

6. Familiarity. To heighten listeners' engagement with your content, ask "Does it easily hook into something they already know?"

7. Motivation. Motivation is influenced by memory, and it contributes to memory: The more we remember, the more motivated we are to do (or not do) something; the more we do something, the better we remember.

8. Novelty. Analyze your content by asking, "Has my audience seen this before? Have they seen it in the last few days, weeks, months?"

9. Quantity of information. Short content does not always equal memorable content. But too much information can cause listeners to give up on trying to remember specifics. Strike a balance.

10. Relevance. Ask how important your message will be to your audience after it has been received, once someone must remember and act on it.

11. Repetition. MRI studies show that it takes the brain three impressions for something to be detected and form a pattern. How many elements in your message repeat and how often?

12. Self-generated content. Invite your audience to be involved in your content so that they will extract something meaningful from what you are sharing. Examples would be asking questions or getting the audience to imagine a scenario you are proposing.

13. Sensory intensity. Activate your audience's senses through visual and auditory information and by provoking their imaginations through words.

14. Social aspects. Offer your listeners content that can impart social advantages such as power, prominence and status, which amplify motivations and drive action to remember.

15. Surprise. Humans remember things better that they encounter unexpectedly. Learning happens when we are surprised.

For HR professionals, developing memorable content that speaks to people's hearts and stays in their heads can positively impact their decisions in the workplace, Simon says. "People make decisions based on what they remember, not on what they forget."

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.

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