Memory effects

All meetings are about learning, both individual learning and collective learning.
For a meeting to be effective it must result in change of some type – even if that change is simply about increasing collective confidence that we are on the right path.

More often however, the change will be about sharing new facts and insights, and about putting things into practice. This will inevitably require that at least some people at the meeting will need to assimilate new information, and therefore the effectiveness of the meeting will be in part determined by how well they retain that information, and that in turn will depend upon how it is ‘presented’.
To illustrate this, please consider the following sequence of words:
‘Saw, when, panicked, Jim, ripped, haystack, the, relaxed, when, cloth, the, but, he.’
How easy will this be for you to remember?
If you try and access it from your memory, how long before you may forget or misremember at least one of the words? Particularly if your mind is required to move onto something else in the meantime?
But what about if we change the sequence of the words:
‘Jim panicked when the cloth ripped but relaxed when he saw the haystack.’
Would this affect how easily you could retain the list? How long before you may forget or misremember at least one of the words from this list?
That is the impact of structure on retention – the more logical the structure, the better our ability to remember because each component carries a link to its surrounding components, which helps our memory. Most people could now remember this structured list for a day or two fairly easily if they wanted to.
Finally, suppose we told you that Jim is actually a parachutist. How long could you remember the list of words then?
Typically the answer is much longer. When we add meaning and context to what we are trying to remember our retention is massively increased.
This is vitally important for presentations, reports and summaries. If something is important enough to consume good meeting time in transmitting it, then it is important enough to ensure the greatest likelihood of retaining it.
By ensuring that presentations, reports and summaries are well structured, so that each component links through to its neighbouring components, and by drawing out and emphasising the meaning, meetings can more efficiently pursue their goals.
It may take a bit more time to ensure that this is done well, but it can more than double the retention, and that represents a good investment.
Further guidance on memory effects and their impact on the effectiveness of presentations can be found in What makes a presentation more engaging and memorable

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