How To Be Unforgettable
It was never easy to leave a lasting impression on others. Now, it’s nearly impossible. The precious real estate in our brains is oversold, and as study after study shows, we’re becoming increasingly overwhelmed and distracted.
Consider that the average American hears or reads 100,000 words every single day. Studies dating back decades have shown that 80% of what we learn is gone within 24 hours. That makes it much less likely that your message is the one that sticks. (After all, we can only hold about seven things in our head at any one time.)
And yet, we are told that it’s even more important than ever to have a personal brand, to build a platform, to stand out, to manage our free-agent careers.
Whether we’re looking to sell our product, get money from investors, land a competitive job, or assure our next promotion — being memorable is vital. As Dan Pink says in his new book, To Sell is Human, nearly all of us are in sales in some form or fashion. If we’re not selling products, we’re selling ideas — or ourselves.
We want to be strategically memorable, in the ways that benefit us. It seems all too easy to standout for accidental behavior. Not so good. Being unforgettable in a way that furthers our goals can be approached systematically — whether selling yourself for a job or standing in front of a group delivering a speech. When you have a message to share, consider these proven, research-backed success strategies.
Given that we can only hold a few things in our working brains at once, coupled with the fact that attention fades after about 10 minutes, your impact will be greater if you have fewer points to make. No matter the length of your meeting, come prepared to discuss no more than three main points. (Yes, this is true for any length of meeting. Don’t white knuckle your crammed PowerPoint.) You can have supporting information for each of your main points, but the takeaways should be clear and brief. Fewer points allow you room to move in your discussion, and utilize more of the tactics that follow.
2) Stories and anecdotes
It’s well-worn advice to incorporate stories, and for good reason. We retain them far longer than data, and have evolved to listen and learn from them. Consider how stories underpin cultures of companies (or countries, for that matter). When you come in as a newbie, you learn the ropes through hearing the lore of the organization.
Anecdotes have a similar effect. A Stanford research study showed that statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%.
If you want your points remembered, make sure there’s an accompanying story or anecdote to support each one. Interviewing for a job and want to show your motivation? Don’t say it, tell a story about it.
(As a side note, make sure your stories are real and human, not boisterous posturing. The former create connection, the latter, disaffection.)
3) Descriptive language
Research into courtroom testimony has revealed interesting data about the importance of using descriptive language for retention. The more details given — such as colors, setting, tone or mood — the greater the recall of an event.
For example, I could say I’m excited to write this post. Or I could say that I woke up two hours early this morning, energized to write. I had my coffee and began jotting notes on Post-Its before heading to my laptop — spilling my drink on the light brown carpet. As I typed, the early morning light burst through my white shutters announcing springtime into the room. (Sorry for the exaggeration, but you get the drift.) One creates a visual while the other creates nothing.
And on that note about visuals, it’s not surprising that we’re better at remembering what we can picture. That’s one reason a good story lasts. It creates an image in the minds of others that can be recalled.
You can also insert key visuals into your conversations. Whether putting striking images into presentations, using photos of customers with their testimonials, or producing a video resume, visuals matter. They may take more care to create, but the payoff is worth it.
4) Rhyming and repetition
Pink uses Johnnie Cochran’s famous phrase from the O.J. Simpson trial to show the strength of rhyming: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Annoying commercial jingles and slogans that we can remember 30 years later are further proof. Rhyming helps us retain information, as does alliteration, acronyms, and other short-hand memory tricks. You don’t need to be cheesy about using them, just consider how they can structure or frame a message deftly. (For anyone trying to create culture change through a shared vision, this one’s for you.)
Repetition also helps concepts to bake in. Marketers have the rule of seven exposures for a message. In public speaking 101 we’re told to “say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you just said.” These point to universal truths — if you want people to remember something, keep saying it.
5) Manage reservations first
When you enter into any persuasive dialogue, the other party generally has some reservations. Those reservations stay in their minds, front and center, as a filter through which all of your comments go. If you want your listeners to be receptive, speak to their reservations first. After they are addressed, the other party will be more open to hearing your full message. Think of a sales person who starts with, “I know you’re not ready to buy now, so let’s just talk about what’s new in the next version of our product for when you are ready.”
6) Ask open-ended questions.
The first skill you learn as a coach is how to ask evocative, open-ended questions, i.e. those that begin with How and What versus Why. The reasons are many. Studies show that questions help us rewire our brains. Open-ended questions feel less judgmental, and give us space to explore our thoughts. They also let us come to our own conclusions, which we’re more likely to accept and turn into action.
When we ask open-ended questions, we also show that we know how to listen, which is an all-too-rare quality. One of the best ways to be unforgettable is to know when to stop talking.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
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