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237: Crafting Memorable Stories with Dr. Carmen Simon

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Carmen Simon says: "As a communicator, you're a choreographer of your audience's expectations."

Carmen Simon shows how to become impossible to ignore by integrating the right components to influence our audience’s minds.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three components of a good story
  2. Why causation in a story can be both sexy and tricky at the same time
  3. Why relatable emotions are more important than strong emotions

About Carmen 

Dr. Carmen Simon is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and Founder of Memzy. She has applied the latest neuroscience research findings to deliver workshops, design, and consulting services. Carmen is a published author and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. She holds doctorates in instructional technology and cognitive psychology, and uses her knowledge to offer business professionals a flashlight and a magnet: one to call attention to what’s important in a message, the other to make it stick to the audience’s brain so they can act on it. Carmen’s brain science coaching helps business professionals motivate listeners and stand out from too much sameness in the industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Carmen Simon Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carmen, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carmen Simon
Thank you. Thank you so much and welcome back, everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so fun. There’s only been about three guests who have done, well, exactly three, I believe, who have made a repeat appearance, so welcome. It’s cool to have you in the club here.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. And, you know, repetition is the mother of memory so repeated exposure with yet some statements that people remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is well-played. You know, Skype just informed me that your birthday is on New Year’s Day.

Carmen Simon
Oh, I wonder how it got that information. No, it’s actually equally cool birthday. I’m a Halloween baby.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Well, maybe you just set said, “Forget this, Skype. I’m not telling you my birthday. I’m filling in, oh, 1-01.”

Carmen Simon
Yes, it’s relinking this with the concept of memory. False memories are very much of a cautionary topic for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was intrigued because our baby, the due date is January 1.

Carmen Simon
Oh, there you go. Always at the crossroads for new beginnings. That’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess you’ll be unlikely to share a birthday with our child, but you’re still close in our hearts. It’s so sweet of you to ask for our wedding photo, and I sent you one very belatedly as well. I’ll follow with my thank you notes which is very belated.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you and congratulations. Once again what beautiful pictures.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And I just learned that you were once an interpreter at the UN. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, that story?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, what a great job to run the nest on. It wasn’t the Nicole Kidman type but operating in similar environments. So, at the time there was the Bosnia war going if you imagine. Remember the embargo that was placed over Bosnia, so the group that I was assigned to was constantly monitoring those borders and we would constantly do these Danube patrols and I got to work with a lot of CIA and FBI agents.

It was an intriguing part of my life. What I retained from it, speaking of memory, is that when memory is concerned, culture plays such a huge role because all of us have such different mental models through which we process our reality. So, I’m sure that all of our listeners have a different mental model as to how you use to spend your Christmases since we’re talking about Christmas before our show. And what your Christmas used to look like was very different than mine.

What’s a traditional Christmas for you, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is, well, midnight mass which is actually like at 10 p.m. or so and snickerdoodle cookies.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, there you go. So, if we’re doing the show to impart with our audience some practical guidelines on how to stay on other people’s memory which is the center of my research, what I remember from my interpreter days is that it was much easier to translate and be able to stay accurate to those people’s memories the more that I understood their mental models, so to the extent that I got to be in somebody’s shoes from Germany, or somebody’s shoes from Romania, or somebody’s shoes from France. The translation and the accuracy of those memories was much sharper.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, which languages were you interpreting?

Carmen Simon
I was interpreting English and French. Now, remember my roots go back to Romania so that’s another language that would belong in there. I could play in some Italian in the good old days so those were the languages that were operated back then at the borders.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s impressive. To have those languages, another feather in your cap as memory expert.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it’s very humbling because as I reflect on what makes something memorable, sensory stimulation is definitely one of the variables that you can use to stay on people’s minds. And when you translate something you can stay on the surface or you can go a little bit deeper in order to understand what you’re talking about. And I’m noticing that a lot of people forget things simply because we do stay on the surface all the time.

I’m working on some presentations with some executives just this week, and they’re asking me to create slides for them that express things like business optimization or an improved sales model. And unless you’re getting to those people’s shoes, very much like what we’re doing back then in our interpreting days for France or for England or for Germany, it’s very difficult to come up with something that is fresh and stimulating our senses.

Because if you just go to, let’s just say, stock photos and you type in sales optimization, what do you get? Yeah, you’d get those arrows pointing up and people shaking hands because a new deal has been closed. But how memorable are those?

Pete Mockaitis
Now I’m thinking of people dressed up in their business formal wear and suits just like sprinting around a racetrack. I don’t know.

Carmen Simon
Oh, they go from the racetrack to the top of the mountains, I’m sure you’ve seen those.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not dressed right.

Carmen Simon
And a blank computer screen and just getting very excited, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so since we last spoke you started your own company, you’ve gone solo. It’s kind of like Justin Bieber or something, out of NSYNC. You got your own company now, it’s MEMZY. And what’s MEMZY all about?

Carmen Simon
MEMZY is all about using brain science research to help organizations create memorable content. So, if somebody is reflecting on their own messages, and they’re thinking, “Boy, we’re going to have a hard time expressing this and staying on people’s minds,” then it’s very useful to look at evidence-based guidelines to see what you can do in a more precise kind of way.

Because surely you may have some techniques that you’re using right now to create something that’s memorable. But are you sure that those render dividends or is it are you using those techniques simply because they may have worked in the past?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Intriguing. Well, now we’re back in Episode 11, if folks want to check out the original conversation that we had, and so there might be a couple things repeated, which is just fine for memory as you’ve made clear, but I also kind of want to chart a little bit of new territory. So, I understand that you’ve got some recent research about what it is within stories that make them more memorable than perhaps other stories.

Carmen Simon
I do. I just got so tired of hearing people saying, “Stories are memorable all the time.” Like whenever people talk about memory, and you tell them, “Hey, it’s good to make something memorable,” they immediately say, “Shouldn’t you share a story?” And, of course, the intuitive answer is, “Yes, definitely share a story.” But just because you do don’t think that that story will always be memorable or always be memorable long term.

So, through the research I did just that, I invited some people to first submit a series of stories, and I asked them to complete the sentence, “I will never forget,” and then fill in the blank. And some people went on for a few paragraphs, and some people went on for longer, some people went professional, some people went personal. Where do you think most of the people went though, personal or professional?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing personal.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, most of the people who submitted their stories went to a personal space, and that was intriguing to me as a finding, too, by the way, because when your audiences are going to recollect their memories and, hopefully, you’re in there somewhere, they’re going to reach for the memory that comes to their minds more easily, that comes to their minds without much effort. And our personal memories quite often are probably a lot more effortless than the professional ones to recollect.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, then what did you notice in terms of like the themes or patterns associated with the stories that folks will never forget?

Carmen Simon
Most of the stories had obviously some sort of an emotion or some contrast between a state versus another state where they ended up those weren’t necessarily surprising. What surprised me is when I gave these stories to various people to then read, and I asked them, “What is it that you remember from other people’s stories you see?” That’s when I wanted to see, “What’s the overlap? What’s stays in our minds from other people’s stories naturally without you trying too hard?”

So, two days later after these people read the initial stories, they received a survey that asked them, “What do you remember?” And I asked them a subsequent question, too, I said, “Now, please try a little bit harder,” exactly for this reason I’m mentioning that the brain is a cognitively lazy organ, and when we are asked a question, especially if we’re not immediately vested, which these people weren’t, we’re going to take the path of least resistance.

So, if I asked you, “What do you remember from your last day at work?” You might probably give me one or two things and not really try that hard. Is that true? Like what do you remember from your work last week?

Pete Mockaitis
Last week? It’s so funny. My temptation, talk about lazy, was to just get the mouse and move right over to the calendar and have it do the remembering for me.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, I’m not surprised. That’s what I noticed that that was one of the initial findings is that immediately, for question number two, which is where I’m asking people to, “Please try a little bit harder,” obviously those are more revealing answers than their original answer.

So, then the practical guideline that I would have for everyone listening to this is that, one, make sure that if you do have a story, it comes to your audiences’ minds easily, and then you reinforce is in some way if you want to stay there for a long period of time because those surface details are going to be gone very, very quickly. We tend to stay on the surface when recollecting things especially if the reward or if the goal for them to remember is not all that well-stated or not that strong.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, now I’m thinking harder per your prompt. And the first thing that comes to mind is we had a podcast guest, Frances Cole Jones, and she sent an email out to her whole list which had her sporting the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast T-shirt, which I began sending to guests as a thank you. So, spoiler alert, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Nice. Well, see that’s a very smart technique, by the way, because if you want to make stories more memorable, and just any other type of communication more memorable, a good way to do it is to send something that would then trigger people’s memories in some way when you’re not even in the room, so you’re doing it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I guess what made the reason that’s so memorable, it’s like, “Well, shucks, I’ve sent out many, many T-shirts,” and I’ve seen some people post on Twitter, like, “Hey, thanks for the shirt. It’s cool.” But it’s like, “Oh, there’s something quite public into the whole email list. What a treat just in terms of being a generous, kind promotional move on her part that is supportive of what I’m doing over here.”

Carmen Simon
Congratulations! Congratulations!

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah. So, okay, so then we talked about state changes and we talked about I guess noteworthiness is what I noticed. So, what are some of the other ingredients that make them memorable?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, we’re talking about the cognitive ease, so make sure that whatever you’re sharing with your audiences will come to their minds easily.

Pete Mockaitis
But what makes it easy versus hard?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly, so then we have to ask the question, “Well, what happens if we don’t have the chance to ask somebody else to try harder to remember us?” because we don’t always have that luxury. And then the question still becomes, “What comes to people’s minds so effortlessly that they don’t even have to think so hard?”

And one of the items is one that we touched upon a little bit earlier which is this strong sensory stimulation. Like, for example, there was one gentleman who contributed a story when he remembered going to Kenya to fix some electricity-related devices. And he was invited at this family and he had brought them a bottle of Coke. And that family, and according to their tradition, whenever you got a gift you had to then share it with everybody else.

And he remembers in details going up the hill to this hut and it was something that was built in mud, you know those mud huts. He remembers distinctly the mother and the father and the small kid, and even the grandmother that was sitting on this piece of log and she had glaucoma. And he remembers the holes in this kid’s clothes that were stapled so that there wouldn’t be holes anymore.

But the emotion that stood out for him was the fact that these people only had a bottle of Coke, which they had not had for maybe a year before, and they wanted to share with him, and he didn’t even like Coke and it was a warm bottle of Coke. But yet they convinced him to drink some of it, and you take a few sips and then you pass it onto the next person who also take a few sips, and he thought that was the greatest gift he had ever received from a family who pretty much had nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s powerful. And so, then the Coke is right there. We got the red, we got the white visually, we’ve got the taste itself wrapped up in emotion.

Carmen Simon
Exactly. And then you can almost see like those holes on the clothes that are stapled shut, and you can see the mud hut, and the way that he was expressing it was so visual that later on when I was looking at people’s responses, and I knew that a few of them had read his story, those details were remarked in people’s responses. That’s such a luxury for anyone these days to stay on people’s minds days after you have shared this stimulus. That’s huge.

And the advice then that I have for everyone listening is to look at your communication and ask, “How strong of a mental picture are you painting in your audiences’ minds?” Because, quite often, we become forgettable simply because our communication is so darn abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s excellent. And so, then I’m thinking right now, as you talk about some clients working with like business process optimization, I guess that seems pretty abstract, but if maybe we’re talking about, I don’t know, logistics or delivery, if you tell a story of a customer who was blown away by receiving that package, I don’t know, like the very next day and they were able to, I don’t know, redecorate the house or serve a patient in the hospital, like something I guess visually that they’re then doing with that product and how the speed made a difference. I’m just sort of grasping here. But I imagine that goes a lot farther than saying, “We’re dropping our average ship time from 2.1 days to 1.4 days.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you can still show both. I’m not saying then sacrifice one at the expense of another. In fact, a question that I get quite often when it comes to storytelling is, “What’s the difference between storytelling and facts?” And we can’t really approach the question that way because facts can still be parts of stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Carmen Simon
Facts are, I would define them as zoomed-in stories because if I were to categorized all the findings from the research, a story is based on three components. There is a perceptive component in which we can include that sensory stimulation I was sharing with you; we can include a strong context because when I said Kenya you can kind of knew where to go; and we can include action across time. So, all of this are perceptive things, things that you can sense with your senses.

Another component is a cognitive one, and facts go in there and meanings and abstracts, so that’s where business people thrive. We enjoy the fact and we enjoy extracting some conclusions from what we say, and those are great. But quite often I think at the expense of the perceptive, we don’t help our audience’s brains to build these strong mental pictures and then we wonder why people forget those facts because they didn’t really know how to imagine those.

And then the third one is, of course, the affective component which is where emotions and motivations and aspirations would go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us maybe some pro tips to enhancing each of these dimensions?

Carmen Simon
Yes. For the perceptive one, definitely go towards the language that stimulates the senses and keeps us alert. So, the more you can make people see what you saw and hear what you heard, and then almost enable touching what you touched, then that strong language would definitely reside in people’s memories a lot stronger.

And, also for the perceptive, don’t forget the action across time. You cannot have a story unless things progress across time, and in business content, hardly anything ever happens. In fact, it’s surprises me when people say, “Oh, just come to our organization and help us tell our story better.” And then I’ll ask, “Well, so what is your story?”

And they will say, “We are founded in this year, and we have this many customers, and we have noticed these trends in the industry, and as a result we have developed this amazing web architecture.” You know, everybody has an amazing web architecture these days, “And we have done this and this other thing.” But there’s’ nothing really in a progression across time that is a mandatory component of a story.

Like if we were to talk about business stories, for instance, I remember the woman who invented spandex. For all the women listeners, I’m sure that everyone has heard of the product. And when she’s interviewed and you go online and you read her stories, you hear how, at first, she started in her own apartment, and how she was trying on things in the bathroom, and how she was experimenting things in the kitchen, and then she tried to get a meeting with somebody at Neiman Marcus, and the meeting was going poorly until she convinced one of those executives to go with her to the bathroom and try this product on under some white pants.

And from then on, she wore those white pants for three years to convince many other people to buy into the product. So, see how things just progress across time. First this happened, then this happened, and as a result this other thing happened. So, we go from A to B to C and each is a consequence of the previous stage, and that’s the mandatory component of a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so I’m interested. When it comes to, say, like a business telling a story, a lot of times it’s about growth, “We had this many units or this much revenue, and now we have these many units and this much revenue and it’s much bigger.” And so, but in a way, those aren’t really actions. It’s just sort of an output or measurement. And so, how would you maybe make that translation?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so if we’d go from that list of facts, because if you’re saying, “In 2016 we sold these many units, and in 2017 we sold these many units, and therefore we have grown by this percentage,” that’s almost kind of an action because you would have to make it show, “How did you get to point B as a result of point A?” Was it somebody that you hired?

Because, imagine if you said, “In 2016 we sold this, and then we hired this amazing VP of sales. I mean, this guy, he used to work for such and such. And then he sold his company, and then he did some other things. And then he moved to the US, and despite his accent he created all these relationships, and did this and this other thing. And as a result, then here we are 2017 with an increased in this.” So, see how now you’re showing how B is a result of A.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, “Or that individual customers were so delighted that they shared stories like so and so from Mississippi who put this on her Facebook and sort of shares of that nature just naturally resulted in so many more people buying it, and thusly we have this number of units now.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you would have to be careful about showing causation which it’s a tricky thing because causation is what we would consider, from a storytelling perspective, a plot. So, you’re saying if your customer has posted such and such on Facebook, and then somebody else saw it and as a result they, too, purchased the product. And then they went to another customer, and as a result of that then this is what happened.

And sometimes, especially when we deal with technology-oriented things or science-oriented products, people are so afraid of causation that they will only stick to just a list of facts, inviting the audience to draw their own conclusions, and because we’re saying the audience has such a cognitive lazy inclination anyway, they may not often make that leap. So, not only are you less persuasive but you’re not really sharing a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. So, then, the key distinction there is that, you’re saying, be careful of causation and don’t sort of say it’s because of it, but share what happened. Let’s see, set me straight here, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, well, causation is sexy and tricky at the same time. Causation is what enables you to fully stay truthful to a story in a sense of A caused B which then caused C, but then having the boldness and the accuracy to make a causation statement, that’s where it’s at.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Carmen Simon
Do you have what it takes to stand behind your causation? That’s the question I would ask anyone listening. Because, for example, some of my clients are from the biotech industry, and when they try to sell a specific product to a doctor’s office they have to be cautious about saying, “You will get this product, and as a result, for sure, this is what’s going to happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, you don’t say it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it doesn’t mean that you always have to share a story, by the way. So, if that’s your field and you’re afraid of causation, you don’t necessarily have to go there, but then don’t claim you’re telling stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s just about saying that it caused it as opposed to sharing a sequence of events that imply it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. I’m with you. Tracking along. Thank you. Okay. So, then how about the affective component?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so the cognitive we have no problems with because facts and abstracts definitely dominate. For the affective component, I think one of the biggest insights that I got from this study were that just having the presence of emotions still doesn’t guarantee memory. Sometimes that’s another statement that I hear made very frequently, “Oh, if you want to have something memorable, and especially a memorable story, you definitely have to always have emotion.” Not true.

For instance, people will say, “Oh, stories like 9/11, or the Space Challenger disaster, or Oklahoma bombing, those, of course, will be memorable.” Not that fast. For example, in some of the groups that I had designed in my study, people read a 9/11 story, people read a Space Challenger story but they also read stories like, “I will never forget the time when my co-worker complimented me on LinkedIn. It was just such a touchy message, I had posted this, and then they reacted like that, and then I said this. And that just meant a lot to me in my career,” or something along those lines.

Or, “I will never forget my cousin’s wedding because this is what happened.” And those things were a lot more memorable than the world’s history stories, so to speak, even though the emotion was not as strong but it was more relatable, you see. So, if you ever have the choice, and you’re looking at your content and you’re thinking, “Boy, my content is kind of dry. I could never match the emotion of a disaster or something that just happened. Everybody paid attention to it.” Don’t even worry about it because relevance quite often trumps emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. So, could you maybe help us tie this all together in terms of maybe sharing a couple examples of messages or stories transformed sort of before from one of your clients, and then you did some tweaks and reframing and communicating it differently to an after that had such a greater impact in memorability?

Carmen Simon
Well, let’s look at this one that I’m working on this week, and it’s not finalized but I think all of our listeners are going to be able to relate to it. So, the before version comes across like this. “Welcome, everyone. We’ve had an interesting and challenging 2017. It’s prompting me to remember why is it I’m working at this place anyway. And I’ve worked here because of some professional opportunities that we all have. It’s also the right timing because the technologies that are happening in the field are just at the right intersection,” and so it goes, and so it goes from fact to fact to fact to fact which is just assumed in story as we said.

The recommendations that I’m making and the after example is going to include something along the lines, “Okay, we have had a challenging 2017, and it’s prompting me to reflect why am I working at this company. Well, it’s a wonderful professional opportunity. And what do I mean by this? I remember a time when I was looking for the intersection of just the right technologies, and I was working for this company and this other executive walked in and he said this to me. And then that’s how I reacted, and that’s when I realized that things were a little bit different, and then I read this other article.”

And see how I’m going with, “This is what’s happening,” and the more I zoom in and the sensory details are stronger, and he’s able to show pictures of his older executive office, so we can see him working for that company and as he moved to another company. So, now it becomes more become sensory intense and things that happened and then caused another thing and they caused another thing, and now we can abstract it out and say, “It was a great professional opportunity.”

Or in the initial, let’s call a story between quotes, he’s talking about coming to work to this company because he wanted to work with people he could trust. Notice how abstract that is. But in the after version, I’m prompting him to say, “Well, so who is that?” So, he’s showing some other guy’s picture and how he served as a best man at his wedding, so we’re killing two birds with that stone because not only is he now showing some sensory stimulation that’s stronger because, “I enjoy seeing the pictures of the wedding and the champagne and people dancing,” but the emotion is now present.

Because it’s one thing to say, “I’m working here with people that I can trust,” and it’s just an abstract concept, but another to see them hugging and see them in their suits and see them in such a nice human-like moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. And so, you’re bringing up the usage of visuals, of slides, which I think can really be helpful because I think sometimes I might feel, perhaps, a little bit awkward going too big and using my words to try to paint an imagery picture like, “Oh, someone fancies himself a novelist over there.” Whereas you could say, “And he was the best man at my wedding,” and then you show an image, and they go, “Oh, that’s the wedding.” And so, then, you can go a long way by bringing those visuals in, even of the desk, of the workplace, of the wedding.

Carmen Simon
So true. And the nice thing about being able to do that is then, obviously, those pictures are also going to add the extra words that are even unspoken so you can get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to go there next in terms of trying to make an impact with a story I think that’s a concern some might say, “You know, well, I’ve got exactly three minutes or five minutes of time to make these points. I don’t have time to go down and make a story especially with all these impactful affective details that you’re describing.” So, what are some of the ways to get some of that goodness in a shorter period of time? One is by using visuals or slides. Any other tips there?

Carmen Simon
I really like that question because you’re so right, people are concerned that they don’t have enough time to share stories. And for any of our listeners who are married, and sometimes they get their spouse’s reaction, it’s like, “Come on, get to the point. I don’t have time for all of these details.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve never said that. One year in, I’ve managed to not say that.

Carmen Simon
You just recently got married. You just give it a few years.

Pete  
Okay.

Carmen Simon
But executives and some other business audience may have a similar reaction, “Just get to the point.” And so, one of the ways that you could still want to share a story, but you’re afraid that you don’t have enough time, the advice would be to earn the right to tell the details.

And the way to do that is to respond first to people’s expectations. And as we said, facts are just zoomed-in stories, and if your audiences are indeed expecting facts at first then give those first. So, if I’m presenting to some executives and they do want to hear about the growth that has happened in the past two years and they want to see some charts, that’s my intro. I’m not going to start with, “It was a dark and stormy night, and the clouds were just approaching, and I knew something drastic was going to happen.” You see?

But if I share with you the right amount of information that you expect, then I’m earning the right for a few more minutes of some other details, and then I can say, “The reason that we got to these numbers is because of that one dark stormy night when you would not believe what happened.” So, as a communicator, you’re a choreographer of your audience’s expectations. See to those first and then you earn the right for a few extra minutes where you can fill in the details that would make it a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Very good. Any other perspectives on the time perspective?

Carmen Simon
Yes. So, obviously, time would be correlated with the length of a story. What I noticed in my study was that there is such a thing as too short of a story beyond which it becomes forgettable. And the length that I noticed people that they remember stories, the sweet spot, was somewhere around 600 words which would be about two or three paragraphs, and I would always suggest that if you want to have a memorable story, write it down first and then make sure that you say it verbally so that you don’t sound as if you’re too scripted. You still speak it. It’s not a story meant for writing.

But 600 to about 900 words if you want to be a really polished storyteller because, otherwise, you won’t be having the opportunity to do justice to a context to those sensory details, or build some of those emotions in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, now, Carmen, I love it when you drop a number. That’s intriguing. So, 600 to 900 words is a sweet spot there. We’re talking about memory and stories and memorability and this good stuff. Are there any other kind of key rules of thumb or numbers that leap to mind?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, let’s look at this concept of the emotion just a little bit more closely because I think it’s so widely misunderstood when it comes to memory. Emotion, when you’re kind of disconcerting, come from three sources. It can come from the nature of the content, because if you’re talking about medicine or people in Kenya, immediately the nature of the content draws an emotion.

But sometimes, in business, we don’t have the luxury of that. We talk about, like you said, trucks or web architectures or predictive analytics. Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of emotion inherently associated with our content. So, then, what do you do, because you still need some emotion to make something memorable?

And the other two sources can be your audience can be a source of emotion. So, if you’re talking to people who are extremely invested in a topic, who are either elated or upset, they bring their own emotions that then contribute to the formation of some memories, or you can be the source of emotion as the transmitter of that message.

For example, while I was listening to these people talk about predictive analytics a few months back, and they were the most excited about this product and this technology that I had ever seen. I could have listened to those guys go on forever about predictive analytics. So, as you’re pondering your own question or your own content, question the chemistry that you have with your own content because when that chemistry is there, then you can be the source of emotion, and immediately you’re going to have an increased chance at memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, Carmen, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Carmen Simon
Oh, my favorite things. Let’s see, anything related to memory. Since we’re talking about emotion, another reminder that I would have for our listeners is that what we remember is not necessarily the emotion itself. We remember quite often the transition from one emotional state to another. And the sharper the contrast the stronger the emotions.

So, for example, let’s just say that I shared with you that I fell off a bike and, obviously, that’s a negative emotion. But then if I said, “I fell off a bike and then got ran over by a car,” see how you reacted, and that’s when the memory got formed, because the first one, yeah, I had some emotion but the sharper the contrast between two emotional states that you’re creating for your audiences then the stronger the memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s potent. It’s so funny, I was imagining that you’re going to contrast by going to something really happy, but then you just went to extra, extra bad.

Carmen Simon
Yes, you can go positive and then double positive. Like if I said, “I went to Vegas and I won 50 bucks. And then I pressed a button and next I won 50 million,” that you probably created a memory just now because you went just super, super, super happy. But then you can go the other way of negative to quadruple negative, and that’s how memories are formed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Carmen Simon
Ooh, a favorite quote. Let’s just see. Just the other day I saw this thing on the internet, and you know we believe everything that we read on the internet, but this quote just really resonated with me. It said, “You have survived a 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is nice. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Carmen Simon
Ooh, let’s see. A favorite book that I just bought and just started reading is called Supercasting. I’m intrigued by this notion that the brain is constantly on fast-forward as you can imagine, and some people can predict better than others, what gets us to be better predictors.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say predict, you mean just in terms of what is going to happen next in your environment?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Thank you.

Carmen Simon
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Carmen Simon
Oh, a tool. I have to admit that someone just ordered the iPhone X, and they returned it so that’s not going to be a favorite tool. I’m curious as to why that happened. I do like this flashlight that I just got that has different settings depending on how dark or so kind of almost light it is outside. Have you seen those flashlights?

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s sensing the environment and adjusting its light?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah, small things. Small pleasures.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Thank you. And then how about a favorite habit?

Carmen Simon
A favorite habit is hiking at the end of a full workday.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful.

Carmen Simon
In search of a beautiful view, because you just can’t be hiking. You have to hike with a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you’ve been sharing recently at MEMZY that seems to really be connecting and resonating with your clients?

Carmen Simon
A particular…

Pete Mockaitis
Just something that you say or share in your work with clients.

Carmen Simon
Oh, yes, there is. The line that people seem to resonate with and remember is this notion that as we are exposed to content we forget about 90% of that stimulation, so it’s important to control the 10% they remember. So, that has become a favorite mantra, and quite often when people come back to me and they talk to me, they’ll say, “Let me share with you what my 10% message is to my own clients,” and that warms my heart because when they mention that phrase, “What is my 10% or my 10% message is,” then I know I’m able to stay on their minds and that’s a challenge that I share with all of the listeners today. What is your 10%? And are you in control of that?

Pete Mockaitis
And, Carmen, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Carmen Simon
MEMZY.com, M-E-M-Z-Y, and the Twitter handler is @areyoumemorable, and of course LinkedIn Carmen Simon. I’d love to stay in touch and I would want to hear what is your 10% message that you want to put on other people’s minds.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carmen Simon
Yes, the challenge would be that of precision because we cannot ultimately control everything that goes on in people’s minds, and sometimes we want to overshare. So, I would say don’t attempt to get people to remember more but get them to remember less and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Carmen, this has been a whole lot of fun all over again. Thank you and good luck with MEMZY and all you’re up to.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, Pete. You do the same.

194: How to Write like Warren Buffett with Elaine Bennett

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Elaine Bennett says: "We remember things much more clearly when they're presented to us in story form."

Elaine Bennett shares how to write better business messages with greater clarity and personality.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two essential pieces of information you need to be a more effective writer
  2. How you can make a bigger impact with storytelling
  3. Winning ways to turn straight thinking into straight writing

About Elaine

Elaine Bennett had a baptism by fire as a speechwriter. Less than two years after she signed on to write for the CEO of Salomon Brothers, scandal forced the executive to resign. In stepped investor Warren Buffett. Since working with Mr. Buffett, Elaine Bennett has continued putting words in the mouths of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and leading nonprofits. She unearths the stories behind business data and helps executives shape those stories into memorable messages. She also coaches individual professionals looking to develop executive-caliber communication skills.

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191: Writing Better with Anne Janzer

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Anne Janzer says: "When you're writing in a workplace, it's a team sport."

Writing coach Anne Janzer provides principles, checklists, and pro-tips for better writing at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to overcome the biggest workplace writing problems
  2. The 6 questions to ask yourself before you start writing
  3. The best ways to get your points across without offending

About Anne

Anne Janzer is an author and writing coach who has worked with over a hundred technology businesses in her career. Anne has written three books on marketing and writing. Her latest book is called The Workplace Writer’s Process: A Guide to Getting the Job Done. It covers the things no one teaches you in writing class: how to set yourself up for success when writing on the job, how to collaborate with others on writing projects, and the secrets to creating effective content.

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173: Writing Better Emails with Leslie O’Flahavan

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Leslie O'Flahavan says: "The subject line is your first and best chance to prepare your reader to respond properly."

Email expert Leslie O’Flahavan shares the do’s and don’ts of writing clear emails that build rapport.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to use the BLUF technique to get more opens, reads, and replies
  2. How to use formatting optimally in emails
  3. The method for writing a strong subject line

About Leslie

Leslie O’Flahavan is a get-to-the point writer and an experienced, versatile writing instructor.  As E-WRITE owner since 1996, Leslie has been writing content and teaching customized writing courses for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Leslie can help the most stubborn, inexperienced, or word-phobic employees at your organization improve their writing skills, so they can do their jobs better.

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171: Brevity = Critical with Joe McCormack

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

Joe McCormack says: "Be better, be brief."

Marketing executive Joe McCormack addressed declining attention spans with actionable ways to “be better; be brief.”

You’ll Learn:

  1. How being brief helps you focus
  2. How to trim down information to what is essential
  3. 3 common mistakes when it comes to being brief

About Joe

Joe McCormack is on a mission to help organizations master the art of the short story. An experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. His book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate.

He founded and serves as managing director and president of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency.

A passionate leader, he started The BRIEF Lab, a subsidiary of Sheffield, in 2013 after years dedicated to developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He speaks at diverse industry and client forums on the topics of messaging, storytelling, change and leadership.

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