“I can carry nearly eighty gigs of data in my head.” -Johnny Mnemonic, Johnny Mnemonic

Session 1 in the Dale Carnegie Course Develops Self Confidence Through Memory Recall

There I was, driving along I-275 in Cincinnati at 8:30 in the morning. “Jimmy”, one of my partners in a small VoIP consultancy, was finishing up a phone call in the shotgun seat. We drove for about a minute in silence, watching the hills pass. Suddenly, “Jimmy” turns to me and says, “Remind me to call Bob at ABC Company today.”

Now, I had both hands on the wheel and my attention was on the road.  On the other hand, “Jimmy” had both hands free and could focus his attention on anything he wanted. So why was he asking me to remind him to do something when he could simply write it down?

The answer: Because he trusted my memory abilities more than he trusted his own.

When Dale Carnegie created his methodology over 100 years ago, he discovered that the people taking his programs lacked self-confidence. One method Dale Carnegie used to enhance their self-confidence was to teach people how to use their memory more effectively. When his participants discovered they improved their memory recall of names, places, and events, their new-found self confidence would spill over to support their other abilities.

That’s right. By improving their memory recall, people achieved a new found self confidence in other areas of their lives.

Excuses We Use For Keeping Our Bad Memory

Many people feel that memory is some magical thing that they are born with—they either have it or they don’t.  I realize that having a good memory involves a physiological component. However, people don’t have good memories mainly because no one taught them how to effectively use their memories. We don’t take classes in school that teach us how to improve memory recall. We typically find a memory strategy that works by trial and error. Then, we get lazy! Once we have a strategy, we continue to use it even when it is inadequate for a given situation.

What’s interesting is how we deal with these limitations after we bump into them. When we outgrow a particular strategy, we don’t say, “oh, I’ve outgrown this particular memory strategy. Let me develop a new one.”  We usually find a creative answer to justify our performance including:

  • I’ve got other things on my mind.
  • I’m not good at remembering names.
  • They say memory is the first to go when you get older.
  • I’ve never had a good memory.

The last one is my personal favorite. In all of my classes, that last generalization is the one I hear quite often. Also, as a coach, it gives me the most leverage.

Structuring Information for Memory Recall – Stacking

Tony Buzan has written a fair number of books on the physiological aspects of memory. He provides some simple strategies to improve our ability to recall what we have taken time to acquire. One of those strategies is called stacking. We teach it in Session 1 of the Dale Carnegie Course and use it throughout the rest of the program.

If you are not familiar memory stacking, this method is useful for recalling an ordered list of items. It’s a visual strategy that leverages the fact that we remember things that are visually vibrant and unusual. In the stacking method, we take items that represent what we want to remember and we strongly associate them to each other in a certain order to create a visual story.

For example, if we want to recall a dish, a pencil, and a cow in that order, we can’t simply create these items in our minds as separate items. So first, we place a huge dish made of bone china on the floor. We then plunge a huge, yellow, number 2 pencil into the dish cracking it. At the eraser end of the pencil, we skewer a purple Jersey cow. Now we have a complete unit that is easier to remember.

Elements that Make Memory Stacking Work

There are other aspects that tend to make images stick in our minds and easier to recall. For example, making an image bigger, brighter, and colorful will make it easier to recall for many people. On the other hand, making an image small, dull, black and white will make it easier to forget. Making a picture more graphic will also increase memory recall for many people. Just having a cow balance on the tip of a big pencil won’t make a lasting impression. But a monstrous, yellow number 2 pencil skewering a purple cow with a small amount of blood dripping down the length of the pencil… well, you get the picture.

If you tie your representations together well and the items are representations of the things that you want to remember, you’ll be able to impress your friends by reciting the list of items forward and backward

Additional Memory Recall Resources

We introduce a number of different memory strategies in the first session of the Dale Carnegie course. These strategies help individuals remember an ordered list, a list of items with no specified order, and peoples’ names. These strategies even help people remember the outline for presentations they want to deliver, like a sales presentation. If you are curious about the physiology of memory or other strategies that you can use for increasing your memory power, I would suggest reviewing Tony Buzan’s books on reading and memory.

You can also read a direct application to public speaking in Dale Carnegie’s book, Develop Self-Confidence, Improve Public Speaking.

But the best way to learn about your memory capabilities is through action, starting with the stacking strategy. Use the stacking strategy at home or at work and see what kind of response you get from other people. Eventually, you will find that you have become the most indispensable person around. Everyone will trust your memory capabilities more than they trust their own.