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ShaoLan giving her TED address in 2013.Think for a moment about that awesome talk or article you heard or read the other week. You remember the broad idea of it don’t you? And probably also how it made you feel.

Thanks to Andy Stanley, we know that most of us only have the capacity to take away one main point from a message. So as a communicator, you’ve got to focus your thoughts around one arrow head. And as Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said … but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”  So your other job is to hit them where they feel it – lift them to soar with you or bring them down to the depths of an injustice.

But are there any other tools in the belt of a communicator other than constrained focus and emotional intensity? How else can we get our message to stick in the minds of our audience?

The power of association may be another potent tool. It’s proven that we retain names and words best when we can associate them with another word or idea or mental picture. So how can we incorporate that in the way we communicate, so that people will remember what we say?

ShaoLan Hsueh (don’t ask me to pronounce it) recently gave an engaging TED talk about a new system she’s developed to help people learn Chinese easily … using the power of image association. It’s really simple: Chinese figures are merely simplified images of the concepts they refer to, and so by “colouring in” the image behind the figure, the mind is able to grasp the relation between the two. And this leads to quicker and longer-lasting retention.

The other, less respectable source that got me thinking about this was a daytime-TV program that I watched with my wife while lounging in our hotel room on holiday in Turkey. In it some memory expert linked different names to phrases they sounded like in order to help people at cocktail parties not embarrass themselves in front of new guests. It was a little dubious, I know, especially when he tried to convince his audience to remember Simon by thinking about sighing and moaning. But hey, I guess it worked because I remembered it!

So why don’t you try a bit of word or picture association the next time you want an important word or concept to stick with your audience?

Just try make an improvement on our Turkish TV memory expert!

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