Tag Archives: aristotle

Thinking In Pictures

Thinking In PicturesIt has been long recognized that visual representations greatly enhance our ability to remember and recall information. In fact, the dominance of the visual sense is the most important principle of the Art of Memory.

Perhaps Aristotle said it best, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” (De Anima)

If one hears “red brick house, 4 windows, stoop with three steps” an image begins to form in the brain, essentially streamlining the words heard into one cohesive picture. The brain is doing some work here to make information easier to remember.

When presenting information to an audience the goal is to not only engage your audience but to make your arguments or data memorable. Don’t make your audience do more work than they need to, because, as all presenters know… they wont.

Why not help the brain out and make the information as easy to remember as possible? Do the work of the brain, so you’re not relying on disinterested brains to take that extra step. Show your audience illustrations, icons and diagrams that they can associate with the information presented.

For instance, a scientist tasked with explaining the similarities and differences between diamonds and graphite to laypeople might offer a confusing explanation of molecular structure, carbon and tetrahedral formations. The audience, unfamiliar with the terms and thus unable to streamline the information into a cohesive visual idea, will likely discard the information. The scientist has just failed his task, when instead, he could have offered a simple diagram to increase the audience’s retention.

Molecular Carbon ImageThis slide, constructed for a patent hearing, shows the molecular structure and bonding configurations of sp2 and sp3 carbon, and then ties that information to the end product, something familiar to the layperson. Suddenly, the scientist’s task is easier and the audience has a visual aid to both understand and remember just what this scientist is trying to explain.

When presenting, its critical to use your slides to give the audience all the visual cues and imagery they need to be able to quickly comprehend and file away the information for future recall.

Like Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.”

The Art of Memory

The Art of MemoryWhether a presentation is meant to inform or convince, the audience wont get much out of it unless the content is memorable enough to stay with them.

Memory is a slippery fish. Sometimes we try to remember, and fail. Sometimes we’d love to discard information, but just can’t seem to shake it free from our memory. What makes some events and information more memorable than others? And more importantly for presenters, how can even the most dry subject material become memorable?

Everyone remembers where they were when they saw the footage of the World Trade Center attack; the image exists, ready to be recalled at the mere mention of the event. The vows of a spouse may, likewise, be happily burned into our memories along side the emotions they produced. We may also be able to recall nearly word for word, some of our favorite childhood stories.

People as far back as the early Egyptians noted the difference that images, emotion and narrative had on solidifying events and information into concrete memories.

Based on these first realizations, philosophers, orators and men of science throughout the ages went to work to understand memory: how it works, how to improve it, and how to appeal to it. Overtime, some of the most influential minds of history took up the study. Greats like Aristotle and Cicero wrote at length regarding their thoughts and findings about memory and how to affect it. Some of the earliest works date back as far as 400BCE. Now collectively referred to as the Art of Memory, the main principles can be divided into three main buckets: Visual, Emotional, and Organizational.

An image, seen again, brings to mind the associated information. Information that made us feel happy, sad or scared, gets a special place in our memory. Information that was organized into a linear storyline of cause and effect helps the brain build causal bridges between the events, helping to tie the memories together.

How can these main principles be harnessed to improve your presentations and your audiences engagement and recall? The following three posts will explore the principles of the Art of Memory, and how to use them to insure your presentations make your information as memorable as possible.