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20191124 – Impossible to Ignore


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The main idea is to present and discuss in details 15 variables that author believes could be used to influence other people’s memory: “context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, facts, familiarity, motivation, novelty, quantity of information, relevance, repetition, self-generated content, sensory intensity, social aspects, and surprise.

The end result should be ability of the reader to prepare and deliver memorable presentations that would have material impact on people.


Author provided a nice summary at the end of each chapter, so I would just go with it. Here is a couple of key diagram around which author builds the narrative:

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CHAPTER 1: MEMORY IS A MEANS TO AN END Why Memory Matters in Decision-Making

  • People act on what they remember, not on what they forget
  • What matters most is what happens next. People need memory to predict their next move
  • Memory guides action toward maximum rewards.
  • To be on people’s minds, plug into their: Reflexes Habits Goals
  • Establish a framework, and then decide which items must stand out. Weaken their neighbors.
  • Consider the memory from the standpoint of proportions, not precision.

CHAPTER 2: A BUSINESS APPROACH TO MEMORY Three Steps to Influence Memory and Decisions

  • Prospective memory, which means remembering a future intention, has remarkable advantages for any business because it keeps us viable: we stay in business when people remember what we say and act on it in the future.
  • When people act on future intentions successfully, they complete these three steps, sometimes within fractions of seconds: they notice cues that are linked to their intentions; search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions; and if it is rewarding enough, they execute.
  • The effectiveness of cues depends on how strongly they are related to a desired intention and how salient they are to draw attention at the time of remembering. •   Memory, emotions, and motivation are influenced by the presence, absence, or termination of rewarding or punishing stimuli.
  • People execute on intentions according to the following variables tied to rewards: effort, time delay, risk, and social aspects.

CHAPTER 3: CONTROL WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE REMEMBERS Practical Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Random Memory

  • The forgetting curve hypothesizes that we lose information over time when we make no effort to retain it. We can lose as much as 90% after a few days.
  • Unless we take control of the metaphorical 10% message, an audience will remember things at random.
  • According to fuzzy-trace theory, people form two types of memories: verbatim and gist. Verbatim memories are word-for-word, accurate representations of what we’ve learned in the past. Gist memories include the general meaning of what has happened in the past, and they are less accurate and specific.
  • Determine what type of memories (verbatim or gist) you would like to place in people’s minds and in what proportions.

CHAPTER 4: MADE YOU LOOK How Cues Pave the Way to Action

  • When the cues you use to attract attention at Point A are similar to what people encounter later at Point B, the cues are more likely to signal action.
  • Physical properties of stimuli such as unusual colors, textures, size, motion, loud sounds, harmony, or orientation of objects can force people to look “despite themselves.” These types of cues work because they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Create cues that are linked to existing habits (e.g., associating new information with a software application people already use) Attention driven by habits is potent because people can sustain it on their own, and once habits are formed, they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Use cues to direct attention inward and prompt audiences to focus on habitual thoughts. When you engage your audiences in reflective attention, you promote long-term memory because of a process called elaborate encoding.
  • Link your message to people’s most important goals. Unlike reflexes or habits, goals require cognitive effort, but attention is still possible because goals are fueled by needs. Consider acknowledging that an audience may have conflicting needs, such as uncertainty versus structure, people versus privacy, and survival versus transcendence. •   Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.
  • Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.
  • Ensure that people have enough willpower to pay attention to you (e.g., present important messages early in the day).
  • Strengthen the association between cues, memory, and intentions.

CHAPTER 5: THE PARADOX OF SURPRISE The Price We Pay for Extra Attention, Time, and Engagement

  • Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.
  • Audiences form expectations automatically and mostly unconsciously based on what they pay attention to, memories of past experiences, motivations, emotions, and beliefs they form along the way. To get attention, tie your content to existing beliefs for a better future and provide effective tools they can use after consuming your content, such as checklists, how-to videos, or free software trials.
  • Too much predictability can lead to boredom. Offer your audiences something they expect (and can predict), as well as something that takes them by surprise. Use linguistic, perceptual, cultural, or social norms to break conventions.
  • Juxtapose seemingly unrelated but existing schemas to create surprise.
  • Continue elevating your content to ensure you are meeting your audiences’ ever-evolving palate for satisfying experiences.

CHAPTER 6: SWEET ANTICIPATION How to Build Excitement for What Happens Next

  • Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making. •   People feel more motivated to take action with a boost of dopamine. The presence of dopamine increases the likelihood that people have enough motivation to not only notice cues but come and get the rewards we’re promising and return to us again. •   Dopamine is released when we help people anticipate a reward accurately, but also when we reserve room for some uncertainty. The area of the brain that predicts rewards is the same area that handles novelty.
  • Dopamine spikes in the face of unexpected events. In general, uncertainty makes us uneasy, which is why it is often referred to as “tension.” We can tolerate some tension as long as (1) we know its degree, (2) we are reminded about the importance of the final outcome, and (3) we can tolerate the amount of delay until that outcome is realized.
  • Unusual activities or performers with skills different from your teams’ are anticipation hooks and serve as strong cues that announce worthy outcomes.
  • If the delay before realizing a promised reward is brief, find the right words for the reveal and practice them.
  • Use foreshadowing, which means frequently giving signs of what will come next.

CHAPTER 7: WHAT MAKES A MESSAGE REPEATABLE? Techniques to Convince Others to Repeat Your Words

Criteria for repeatable messages:

  • Portable
  • Timeless
  • Simple syntax
  • Tied to long-term goals
  • Aspirational
  • Generic (no articulate prepositions or definite articles)
  • Appeal to self-interest (make us look good to ourselves)
  • Social currency (make us look good to others)
  • Universal

CHAPTER 8: BECOME MEMORABLE WITH DISTINCTION How to Stay on People’s Minds Long Enough to Spark Action

  • Distinctiveness is important for long-term memory because isolated items draw more attention and rehearsal time. In addition, isolated items come to the foreground, reducing interference with other items, and also appear in smaller numbers, which makes them easier to recall long term.
  • The more similar things are, the harder it will be to retrieve them later. However, similarity is important for the brain to detect distinctiveness.

  • The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.
  • If you’re not first to market, observe pockets of similarity in your domain and then strike with distinctiveness. Allow your audiences’ brains to habituate to similarity; it will be easier for your message to stand out.
  • The more an item differs from other items, the bigger its effect. Select a property you want to isolate and increase its distinctiveness by at least 30% compared with neighboring items.
  • Find opportunities to deviate from a reality your viewers have learned to expect. •  Create distinctiveness by thinking in opposites. This is helpful not only because it helps the brain distinguish some stimuli more strongly than others, but also because contrast is a shortcut to thinking and decision-making.
  • Enable self-generated distinctiveness.
  • Achieve distinctiveness with a human touch and deep meaning.

CHAPTER 9: “I WRITE THIS SITTING IN THE KITCHEN SINK” The Science of Retrieving Memories Through Stories

  • Memorable stories contain the following components: perceptive (sensory impressions in context and action across a timeline), cognitive (facts, abstract concepts, and meaning), and affective (emotion).
  • Something is concrete if we can perceive it with our senses. If we can’t perceive it with our senses, we are talking about an idea or a concept, which is abstract. Balance both in your communication and, to avoid habituation, break the pattern an audience learns to expect.
  • While abstract and concrete are opposites, generic and specific are subsets of each other, with generic being a large group and specific representing an individual item within that group. Zoom in on specific details based on your audience’s level of expertise (advanced audiences can handle abstracts better).
  • Text and graphics have the potential to be equals in memory. Make pictures easy to label and text easy to picture.

  • Pair abstract words with concrete pictures to ensure that your audience extracts a uniform meaning from your message.
  • Use visual metaphors to explain abstract concepts. Steer away from clichéd metaphors by either giving an old metaphor a fresh meaning or using unexpected metaphors.
  • Wrap abstract words in concrete contexts. Repeat information in the same context for verbatim memory. Vary the context for gist memory.
  • Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and create more memory traces. The more personal experiences you share, the more opportunities to include sensory details.
  • Avoid clichéd images. Instead, use vivid images to evoke tension, mystery, wabi-sabi, or nostalgia.
  • Use strong emotions by showing an audience how to: Move toward rewards: pleasure, happiness, elation, ecstasy, love, sexual arousal, trust, empathy, beauty.  Move away from rewards: frustration, indignation, disbelief, sadness, anger, and rage.  Move toward punishments: apprehension, disgust, aversion, fear, terror, unfairness, inequity, uncertainty, and social exclusion.  Move away from punishments: relief, liberation.

CHAPTER 10: HOW MUCH CONTENT IS TOO MUCH? How to Handle Content Sacrifice

  • Clarifying what an audience must remember and do helps to filter unnecessary content.
  • Keep it brief when an audience must identify with the content. Offer more when your listeners don’t have much information or context, and they must make an important decision.
  • Earn the right to provide more information by offering value.
  • If your content is long, alter your audience’s perception of time by offering visible signs of progress, shifting the audience’s focus frequently, and making the content aesthetically pleasing.

CHAPTER 11 HOW DOES THE BRAIN DECIDE? The Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics of Choice

  • If your audience has been performing a task for a long time, link your content to an existing habit. If there are no habits related to your products or ideas, present goal-oriented information. When you do it repeatedly, you help an audience form new habits.
  • Habits are formed by doing, not by not doing. Frame your messages in a positive way.
  • Decisions typically include four steps:
  1. Identify sensory stimuli: What are they?
  2. Select an action that will maximize a reward: What is it worth?
  3. Act on the intention.
  4. Evaluate the results: Did you predict the outcome well?
  • The values our audiences assign to different objects, people, and experiences can range from functional and concrete to something more abstract. People buy things because of emotional, epistemological, aesthetic, hedonistic, or situational value. Clarify these values for your audiences.
  • Even unattended stimuli influence choice. There is no break from greatness for the communicator who aspires to be influential, because everything you share has the potential to influence decisions.
  • Variables that have an impact on our choices include effort to get the reward (physical, financial, or mental), time delay until we get the reward, perception of risk in getting the reward, and social impact in relation to that reward.
  • If your audiences perceive a high amount of uncertainty in their interactions with you, consider heuristics, such as availability, familiarity, or authority, to help them make quick decisions.
  • Fast decision-making is also based on the perception of a stable environment and social factors.
  • A balance between desirability and feasibility leads to more persuasive content. This is because feasibility will help people with their own decisions, and desirability will help them in their transactions with others.
  • Develop content that hooks into rewards from the past but also provides sources for new rewards.


THE RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN AND THE INTENT TO BE REMEMBERED How to Balance Accidental and Purposeful Forgetting

The final chapter is about memory management: need to correctly define what is one need to keep in and what dispose off memory. It is also about Black Swans and need to be prepared by continuously modifying understandings and assumptions. Here is graph that author provides to demonstrate this idea:

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I think it is a great tool to understand works of human perception, understanding, and memorizing of presentations. It well worth it to look through before any important presentation and ask question about how each part of it support or maybe not support the checklist provided and ideas presented in this book.


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