Want to be unforgettable? Start by dumping all but three or four key messages.
An inconvenient truth that constrains the success of every spokesperson is the limited ability of the audience to remember. Humans do a lot of things well, and one of them is taking in urgently needed information about threats and opportunities. In order to take in and process that information, our brain is wired to immediately forget information that either isn’t clearly understood or isn’t perceived as important. Your audience isn't aware of this, but they are constantly assessing everything you tell them. If it isn't perceived as important, they are unlikely to remember what you want them to remember. If it takes work for them to understand, they are wired to let the information drift away.
First, some background. Working memory, or short-term memory, is everything you are thinking of at the current moment. By definition, short-term memory is temporary. If you do nothing with these thoughts, they usually fade in as little as 10 seconds. Through the work of George A. Miller, we know that the average short term memory is around seven units, but we can help our audiences remember more information by “chunking” information – grouping it together in chunks.
If you’ve ever wondered why phone numbers have hyphens, it is because the human brain can’t remember 10 digits without a great deal of effort. For instance, our toll-free number has 10 digits in a particular sequence: 8005968708. If a person were to be presented with that 10-digit number, it would take some work to remember it so it could be recalled a minute or more after turning away. You might remember the first two or three and the last few, but you’ll likely have trouble in the middle. By using hyphens to turn the impossible 10 digits into three chunks of numbers like this – 800-596-8708 – the same information becomes easy to remember.
This simple trick of chunking can significantly improve the amount of information the human brain can remember.
The same thing is true for the messages you want your audience to remember. If you hit your audience with a barrage of ideas, your audience will probably remember three or four things you say. If you deliver six messages, they will remember three or four. If you deliver eight messages, they will remember three or four. That should make you very uncomfortable, because you don’t know what they will leave remembering! What if they don’t remember the one point you believe is absolutely essential?
Spokespeople need to organize their thoughts and ideas into chunks.
Start by limiting the number of ideas you want to communicate. I often see organizations prepare pages and pages of bullets for their spokespeople. This actually can be counter-productive in a couple ways. All that information is difficult for the spokesperson to remember and it makes them anxious to think they need to memorize it all. Plus, even if they did master all that information, it would be impossible for the audience to remember.
Spokespersons and their PR staff should work together to prioritize – identify the three or four most important ideas to get across. Never more than four, because that would be expecting too much from your audience. Three or four is the maximum number of key ideas you should be communicating in any particular media interview, briefing or presentation.
These three or four groups are your chunks. Of course, there will be more facts, proof points and examples to get across. Organize them so they are part of the three or four main chunks of information.
For more information about our media training services, visit http://www.dpkpr.com/mediatraining/. We also provide public speaking training on demand at your location for individuals, small groups or large groups. Call us -- you remember that toll-free number, right?
Photo by Allan Ajifo