able to remember approximately three distinct things about any experience, whether that experience is a baseball game, a movie, or a poorly constructed conference talk. The quality of what you can remember depends on how well you are able to connect those three things to knowledge you have already. You create High-Quality Knowledge when you relate new information to important knowledge you already possess. Ultimately, the talks given by my colleagues would be more effective if they respected the Role of 3.
Every year in November, I go to the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. While the meeting is a great place to find out about cutting-edge work, there is a problem at this conference.
Lots of scientists want the chance to talk about their projects, and hundreds of talks are presented at this two-and-a-half- day meeting. To fit everything in, each talk is only about 15 minutes long. Now, think about it. If you had one chance to talk to your colleagues from around the world each year, and you only had 15 minutes, you might be tempted to throw in as much information as you can in that brief period. And that is what happens. The talks at this conference are dense. People try to present a lot of information in a short period of time.
This conference is full of people who focus their lives on the way that humans process information and learn new facts. And yet, all of this knowledge about how people learn seems to get thrown out the window as soon as they have the chance to talk to their colleagues about their work. Giving very little background information, they launch into a rapid-fire discussion of experiments and data. And as a result, I often have a lot of trouble remembering anything from the talks I hear at the conference. Over the years, I have adopted the strategy of standing in the hallways outside the talks and stopping my colleagues to find out what they are working on. I find that these conversations give me a lot more insight into people’s work than the formal talks themselves. What’s going on here?
Generally speaking, your memory for things that happened to you in the past is governed by the Role of 3. You are
Editor’s Note: The three recommendations Markman makes for readers to help improve the quality of their memory for new events can be applied to meeting attendees.
1 Prepare. Start by doing a little preparation for any class, meeting, or presentation. Since you will most likely have at least a general idea of the content to be discussed in any given situation, you can prepare by thinking about what you are hoping to get out of it. You are most likely to be able to remember information that you connect to what you know already; thus this mental preparation helps ensure your existing knowledge will be available in your working memory.
If you are attending a meeting, talk, or event for which no information or agenda has been provided to you in advance, you should spend a little time thinking about what is most likely to be discussed. Prepare yourself by thinking about the issues you hope are raised and think about how that information might relate to other projects or ideas you are working on.
2 Pay attention. Thinking is hard work. This might seem obvious, but if you look around the room at many meetings, you will find yourself face- to-face with one of the true demons of modern life: multitasking. You cannot maximize the quality of the new knowledge you are taking in if you do not give yourself every opportunity to pay attention.
3 Review. In the few minutes after
a meeting, take a few seconds or minutes to write down the main points … or rehearse them in your head.
Editor’s Note: Likewise, Markman has three suggestions for improving what people remember about you — solid advice for speakers.
1 Start all of your presentations with an advance organizer. You want to provide information to others to give them a sense of what is to come. A sentence about each of the main topics is enough to get everyone thinking.
Giving people information about what will be coming in your presentation gives them the opportunity to activate the knowledge they already have in preparation for learning. The advance organizer also focuses your presentation on a small number of items.
2 During a presentation, stay focused primarily on your three main points. The more digressions and other interesting facts you add, the more likely it is that people will remember something other than the essential message you are hoping to convey. To help people learn new information, find ways to help them connect this content to their existing knowledge. … Encourage people to think of ways in which they would be able to use the information you are presenting. Then, when they encounter those usage situations later, they will be more likely to remember what you told them.
3 At the end of every presentation, summarize your three key points. The summary ensures that you have the chance to emphasize the elements you believe were most important for people to know.