Learning & Development

Want People to Remember What You Say? Do These 4 Things

One skill any great HR and people ops leader should have is being able to roll out information in a way that people notice it, remember it, and apply it. In the world of cognitive psychology, we call these attention, retention, and transfer skills.remember

At LifeLabs Learning, we have a unique opportunity to study what makes some leaders better at these skills than others. What can you learn from them? This article shares four easy tips.

1. Use Question Statements

When we look at great influencers, one thing that stands out is their expert use of questions to “pull” rather than “push” information. These questions can be literal, rhetorical, or written. Imagine you are looking at an agenda in a calendar invite. Compare the following statement-based agenda with the same questions-based agenda, and see which feels more brain-friendly:

Agenda A: (1) product rollout (2) timing (3) responsibilities

Agenda B: (1) What is the product rollout plan? (2) When will the rollout happen? (3) What are our next steps?

Feel the difference? Questions activate the brain’s attentional networks and get people to become active participants rather than passive recipients of information.

2. Drop Into Story Mode

At LifeLabs Learning, my team and I observe managers (including HR managers) in action on a daily basis. We look to see what good vs. great leaders do differently. I have a distinct memory of watching one particular meeting in progress.

From the back of the room, I watched as meeting participants drifted in and out of attentional states, lifting or lowering their faces from their laptops as different people presented. One speaker continually, without fail, got a head lift. What was he doing differently?

He answered difficult questions by dropping into a story-based example, like I did just now. Whenever you want to grab attention, ask yourself if you can arrange your facts into a story. Stories quickly create resonance (called neural coupling) between the speaker and the listener.

3. Give It a Name

There is too much noise in the world, and the brain filters out most of what it hears. What it remembers, though, are things with a good name.

For example, a great influencer from Warby Parker told us that she normalized a time of turbulence by naming it “the gray zone.” For any project or organizationwide change, it is normal to go through the gray zone. In the gray zone, it is difficult to see clearly, but eventually, the fog lifts.

For example, at LifeLabs, when we train managers to ask more questions, we give this concept a name: Q-stepping. The idea is that you can step into a telling mode when needed. But great managers do something different: They step into questions mode first—they Q-step.

4. Create a Repetition Schedule

One error managers often make is misunderstanding how learning actually happens. We live in an information age, so people think of the brain as a computer—an information processor. With a computer, you can just give it an input and push save.

In the world of HR, we all know how this learning metaphor can be misused: Someone makes an announcement at a meeting or sends out one e-mail (an input), and everyone is expected to remember the announcement. But it doesn’t work that way.

The brain is an organ; it creates trace neural pathways upon first exposure to information. If not repeated, many of those pathways are pruned by the brain—essentially, swept away. But, if exposed again (ideally combined with a question statement, a story, and a good name), that neural pathway deepens and builds bridges to other paths. In other words, it sticks. When you want people to remember something, create a strategic, repeated messaging plan.

The Takeaway

What do you want to apply from this article? (See that question statement?) How will you make the learning stick? Here’s a simple way to create a repetition schedule for yourself. Open your calendar right now, and add four small reminders: Week 1 is your week to practice using more question statements. Week 2 is a week of dropping into story mode. Week 3 is all about giving things names. Week 4 is a week of planning good repetitions for yourself and others. Happy learning!

LeeAnn RenningerLeeAnn Renninger is the cofounder and co-CEO of LifeLabs Learning, a go-to manager development resource for innovative companies (like Lyft, TED, Reddit, Sony Music, and Warby Parker). She has a PhD in cognitive psychology, with a specialization in idea transfer, rapid skill acquisition, and leadership development. She is also a researcher, Columbia Business School professor, and coauthor of the book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable & Engineer the Unexpected. Connect with LifeLabs Learning on Twitter: @LifeLabsLearn.