Build a Memory Palace to Lose the Crutch – Part III

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 21st, 2008
2008
Jun 21

(Read the earlier posts in this series here and here.)

Anyone can create their own memory palaces to quickly store and retrieve a wide variety of information or to remember the key points and examples of a presentation or speech..

 

1) – Pick a Palace – Choose a very familiar place (or path or journey) for your memory palace. Your current home is often a great choice for your first memory journey as you learn the technique.

 

2) – Choose a Path – Choose a starting point that you will use for all memory journeys. This can be the front door, the northern most room of the first floor, the largest entrance – what point you select try to stick to that tpe of start for all memory journeys. Decide which direction you will follow from that starting point and how you will proceed from there. If you are able to use a similar starting point and path for every memory journey, it will be much simpler to get started. As you grow more comfortable with this technique, you can use each room of a building to store multiple images. A single wall or an object within a room can become a storage location for a memory. For pi memorization, I use 10 locations in each room (four walls, ceiling, floor, (three walls in closet and closet ceiling). Since each visualization in the Dominic System represents four digits, I can store 40 digits of pi in my college apartment bedroom.

 

3) – Create the images – This step is much easier if you have taken the time to learn the Dominic System. But that is not absolutely required. Create an action scene for the info you need to remember. Make a picture in your mind of whatever the info is, and find every association you can imagine related to those associations.  Ensure their is movement and sound at a minimum. To lock this image in, use outrageous, comical or offensive action. The visualization must be memorable on its own and stand out from all the other images you collect daily. Add in smells and tastes where possible.

 

4) Lock it In – Play the memory journey through your mind in your spare moments. While you are on hold for a call, driving in the car, brushing your teeth or waiting in line, walk through your new memory palace and call up each visualization. A few minutes a day will help you lock those images inside your memory palace.

 

The metaphor I use for a memory palace is a technical one – the master file table on your computers hard disk. Your operating systems keeps a map of all location available on the hard drive. Each time data needs to be sorted, the os encodes the data, stores teh data ion available locations ( similar to to selecting a new memory palace) and keep a record of that location  Finally, when the data needs to be retried, the os check the master file table for its location on the disk, finds the data and decodes it.

 

The vivid and outrageous action scenes built on your personal associations is the encoding step. Picking your memory palace and the path inside it for storing memories is similar to finding available locations on the master file table for storage. Checking the master file table for the data location and pulling that data off the hard disk is a retrieval system much the same way returning to the appropriate spot in your memory palace is a memory retrieval.Translating the vivid action scene back into the needed information is like the os decoded the data on the disk.

 

This technique does require practice. The most difficult for many people is learning how to quickly find associations and translate those associations into a memorable and vivid action scene in a short period of time. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. If you spend just 3-5 minutes a day working on learning this memory technique, you will inevitably discover with a few weeks that you memory has improved dramatically and that it is much easier for you to recall you presentation topics and examples when you speak.

 

 

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Build a Memory Palace to Lose the Crutch – Part II

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 19th, 2008
2008
Jun 19

(Read the first post of this series here.)
Several Romans writers wrote of these ancient memory techniques. "Rhetorica ad Herennium" (author unknown), "De Oratore" (Cicero, 55 BCE),  and Institutio Oratoria (Quintillian, 95 CE) all cover the use of the memory palace technique in oratory. According to "The Art of Memory" by Frances Yates, each of these ancient works refers to the Greek Simonides as the originator of the technique.


His patron, Scopas, reproached him at a banquet for devoting too much space to a praise of Castor and Pollux in an ode celebrating Scopas’ victory in a chariot-race. Scopas refused to pay all the fee and told Simonides to apply to the twin gods for the remainder. Shortly afterwards, Simonides was told that two young men wished to speak to him; after he had left the banqueting room, the roof fell in and crushed Scopas and his guests.  During the excavation of the rubble, Simonides was called upon to identify each guest killed. He managed to do so by correlating their identities to their positions (loci) at the table before his departure. After thanking Castor and Pollux for paying their half of the fee by saving his life, Simonides drew on this experience to develop the ‘memory theatre’ or ‘memory palace’, a system for information management widely used in oral societies until the Renaissance. He is often credited with inventing this ancient system of mnemonics (Quintilian xi.2,n).


Cicero expands upon the memory palace technique in "De Oratore"(Book II, Section 357) -


It has been sagaciously discerned Simonides or else discovered by some other person, that the most complete pictures are formed in our minds of the things that have been conveyed to them and imprinted on them by the senses, but that the keenest of all our sense is the sense of sight and that consequently perceptions received by the ears or by reflection can be most easily retained if they are also conveyed to our minds by the meditations of the eyes.


A memory palace (also called method of loci) provides a location and series of associations for memory. The cornerstone to this method is vivid and imaginative pictures for each item to be included in the memory palace. In my experience, a outrageous action scene that includes a great deal of color, sound, and, if possible, tastes and smells is even more effective.

 


Ancient Greeks did not have access to paper as we know it today for taking notes. Gutenberg’s printing press would not come along until the 15th century. Oratory was very common (and extremely long winded) but there was no readily available method for writing down notes or using sources. Mnemonics were essential to oration, and oration was considered essential to politics and academics. These techniques were refined and proven over centuries, but fell out of favor as paper, printing (and now computers and powerpoint) became more common.

 


This memory palace technique can still be useful today for the speaker. This mnemonic technique can be used for much more than speeches of course. The key is to create vivid, outrageous active pictures for each bit of information, then chain all that information together as action scenes throughout a building (or along a journey as Dominic O’Brien suggests).




In Part III of this series, I will cover a step by step process to creating a memory palace.

 

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Build a Memory Palace to Lose the Crutch – Part 1

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 18th, 2008
2008
Jun 18

One of the most common reasons I hear from technical speaker’s for relying on powerpoint as a crutch is it "is impossible to remember everything I need to say". Many powerpoint users say this of course, but technical speakers take this excuse to the new level because they have have very detailed info on many of the slides because "This is a technical presentation!"

 

I learned a technique several years ago to help me quickly memorize the key points and examples of a presentation and remove the need to fill my powerpoint slides with text and data. That technique is commonly called a memory palace or memory journey.

 

My first exposure to this technique came from a very popular source for books on technology, not memory – O’Reilly Publishing. The book was called - "Mind Performance Hacks:Tips and Tools for Overclocking Your Brain" by Ron Hale Evans. I have long had a fascination with memory, so this the combination of memory and a technology term like "overclocking" was impossible to resist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and learned many useful techniques. The memory palace technique is explained in Chapter 1.

 

 

Making mental journeys (also known as "memory palaces") is a useful way to remember sequential information. If you have several familiar short journeys handy, you can be ready to remember whatever you need to, at any time. Here’s how to start with the layout of your own house or apartment.


An even older mnemonic technique, perhaps the oldest, uses places as memory pegs. By places, I mean ordinary, concrete places, such as the rooms of your house or apartment. If you mentally organize these places into a sequence that is the same every time, you will be able to walk through the places in your mind and retrieve the information you have stored there.1

The Renaissance practitioners of the ancient ars memorativa (art of memory) referred to such journeys as memory palaces. Orators in classical times would prepare their speeches by stashing complex images that represented the things they wanted to talk about in the loci (places) of a remembered or imagined building, such as a palace. In fact, this practice is said to be the origin of today’s expressions "in the first place," "in the second place," and so on.

 

(Read more on Hale Evans book at his Mentat Wiki)

 

After reading of this I was determined to learn as much as I could about this technique. The memory chapter of the Mind Performance Hacks book includes numerous reference to the Dominic System and the book "How to Develop a Perfect Memory" by Dominic O’Brien, O’Brien is an eight time world memory champion. He uses the memory palace technique extensively (he calls it a memory journey).

 

Chapter Eight of this book is devoted to memorizing speeches. In this chapter (on page 47), O’Brien writes "Much like a mental diary, a speech file can help you remember a talk in its entrety without any notes. Key points are translated into key images, and placed along a simple journey".  In the introduction (page 8), he writes "my method has many similarities with the classical art of memory. The Greeks,and later the Romans, possessed some of the most awesome memories the world has ever seen."

 

In Part II of this series, I will review the origin of the memory palace technique.

 

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Video, Powerpoint and the Back of a Napkin

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 12th, 2008
2008
Jun 12

A screencast is " a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration."  I completed a screencast recently, and would like to share the final results and the process to create it with the readers of this blog.

 

In my last post here, I wrote about the video coverage project I put together for my company’s annual user conference. This video project went extremely well (despite a few hiccups, especially with wi-fi and cell coverage). In the week after the event, I had to put together a report to share the results with internal employees and with the audience for the Citrix blog

 

On the flight home, I was thinking about the format I wanted to use for the report. I felt that a video about the video coverage was the best way to communicate the results. I dabbeld with the idea of using the Nokia N95 cell phone to do a Qik video, but quickly discarded that notion. The view of my big head adds nothing to a report.

 

I had just finished reading an excellent book called "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam. This was a very eye opening book about the process of using visual thinking to solve problems and communicate ideas. While Dan’s focus in totally on white boarding, it occurred to me that his process applies to any type of visual communication, including powerpoint presentations and screencasts. I resolved to create a screencast of the Synergy Underground results that follows Dan’s model for the types of questions to ask and answer in a visual manner. 

 

In addition to using the visual thinking frame work from "The Back of the Napkin" I used several other techniques that I have discovered during my journey down the road to more effective speaking. As I have written about before, I used a mind map for the outline and included it as the agenda slide. In several slides, I followed the Lessig Method for text. The great majority of the sides were simple visuals which I narrated, consistent with the principles of Garr Reynolds book (and blog) Presentation Zen and the research of Richard Mayer.

 

 

 


 


 

 

I am very pleased with the overall results. This screencast is certainly not perfect and has given me the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons as I reflect on the experience.

 

 

Voice over – The mic I used was not very high quality. I spent a lot of time trying to clean up noise. Camtasia is great for editing video, but I found the audio editing capabilities of my version to be lacking (or at least my knowledge of how to use them). These lessons have been useful in my preparation for the new podcast series I am putting together for Citrix. I have upgraded to a studio quality condenser microphone (an AKG Perception 200 from ebay), an Alesis Multimix USB mixer and a home made "Porta-Booth" to minimize noise. I have also started using Adobe Audition specifically for audio editing.

 

Overall, I am not thrilled with my voice over. My voice was very flat in the beginning. In several places I stumbled as I narrated then slide. Two main factors contributed to my lackluster voice over- insufficient practice and the very late hour when I did the final cut. 

 

Preparation – I spent the lion’s share time trying to get all the other pieces right (the outlines, slides, Camtasia screen recording, etc…). I set a deadline when to finish this, and spent most of the time changing the outline and redoing the slides to fit with the new structure I learned from Dan Roam’s book. Recording the voice over at 2 am was probably not the best choice to maximize the tone and rhythm of my voice. Since I have not done a screencast in some time AND I was using a new framework for the overall structure of the presentation, I should have given myself more time to complete this project.

 

Visuals- I am very pleased with the content of the screencast overall. One issue does stand out however. It is very obvious now that the video is too long. While I did get many questions about how I did the live video streaming from the Nokia N95 cell phone, I can see now that I should have made that into a separate video. That one changed would have cut the length by about 4 minutes.

 

My goal for the over all structure was to follow the "Visual Thinking Codex" from "The Back of the Napkin"  (pg. 141). I chose the relevant  frame work questions and selected one of the recommended visual methods  to answer each question. Mind mapping  this new frame work helped a great deal, but took much more time than expected due to numerous revisions.

 

Using the simple visuals, minimal text and the basic bar charts recommend by Dan Roam for "How many?" questions did help save a great deal of time. Unfortunately, when Camtasia converted the video to wmv or avi format on the first few attempts, there were significant issues rendering the rapid text changes. That issue took an inordinate amount of time to solve.

 

 

 

Despite these issues, I am very happy I went through this process. I learned a lot of important lessons that will help me in the futre. I hope that my writing about this process will help some of you as well.

 

 

My ultimate goal here is to create a repeatable process that allows me to communicate even more effectively.This combination of visual thinking from "The Back of the Napkin", powerpoint and video along with other lessons I have learned in the past are moving me closer to that goal.  I appreciate any feedback you have on the progress to date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Bad Tech Speakers Video…Ever

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Mar 16th, 2008
2008
Mar 16

 

I have been meaning to post this one for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. A group of speakers at the Microsoft Mobile and Embedded DevCon in 2007 apparently got together to make a gag video of the worst technical speaking they have seen. They are very convincing in their dreadfulness….:)

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZOL878CwfM]

 

I love "Command Line Driven Flux Capacitation" and "I am the PMD of CPE for MCB of the END division". Some technical speakers use so many acronyms you can just see the eyes of the audience glaze over. Stage hypnotists are not nearly as effective at putting an audience in a deep trance as someone who feels compelled to use an tech acronym every 15 seconds.

 

Unfortunately, I have seen Visio drawings on slides with as many (and more objects) as the "System Diagram v2". The next to last guy made me laugh out loud when he said "I am really excited" in the most monotone and flat voice I have ever heard (with his arms tightly crossed). I have been in week long meetings where 90% of the presenters where exactly like this guy.

 

The sad thing is, if you did not know this was a gag video, you could easily see this happening at a technical conference. Enjoy the video…

 

 

 

 

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