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 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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Blogging, or the lack thereof…

Posted by Barry Flanagan on May 15th, 2008
2008
May 15

Unfortunately I have fallen well behind in posting to this blog. My day job just keeps interrupting every time I think I have some time to post.  :)

 

 

My company is hosting our annual user conference next week ( www.citrixsynergy.com ), and I have been blogging a great deal about the content (community.citrix.com/blogs/group/events) I have also been putting together a barcamp at the event (see barcamp.org for background on barcamps) and putting together a plan to do live and recorded video interviews at the event.

 

 

I hope the buzz and interest generated by the barcamp and the live video coverage (straight form a Nokia N95 cell phone to www.Qik.com then pumped over to a special channel on Mogulus TV at www.Mogulus.com) justify the time investment required to pull them off . We will also be posting hundreds of recorded interviews via BrightCove TV, and sending Twitter updates on the keynote sessions and announcements. I am going to announce the video coverage on our corporate blog on Sunday night. It will be interesting to see the response. The response of our own marketing department has certainly kept me on my toes.

 

 

I plan to start video blogging here as a result of the experience, however. Qik not only allows me to broadcast directly into Mogulus TV, but will also allow me to automatically send my videos over to YouTube (at least until I find a Wordpreess plugin for Qik that works). I created a separate YouTube account just for this blog, and I will be sending the videos directly to it. I am looking forward to experimenting with video blogging.. At least I will not have to worry about all the typos I typically make….<grin>

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Message + Great Delivery = Powerful Impact

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Mar 9th, 2008
2008
Mar 9

 

You may have seen this already, or you may have missed this story completely as I did. My wife forwarded this video to me.  Randy Pausch is a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. You can read a short summary of his story on WikiPedia.

 

This is a powerful talk. It is also a fantastic example of how to use visuals (and PowerPoint) to support your message. This is a short 10 minute version of "The Last lecture".

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tIyt8oSLVs]

 

I found the full version of  "The Last Lecture" on YouTube.

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo]

 

This message is not new, of course. The popularity and impact of the message to "really achieve your childhood dreams" is driven by more than the message.  The context and how Randy chose to deliver this message drives the impact deep inside the audience.

 

 

There are many lessons to learn from this talk of course.  Choose to be a Tigger instead of a Eeyore. Be humble even if you have won the Bronze Star.  Break through the brick walls in your life. People are much more important than things. Show gratitude. Don’t complain, just work harder. If you live properly, the dreams will come to you.

 

Great advice, and each had a relevant, moving story behind it supported by pictures and visuals. The stories and visuals hammer home the points in a very powerful way. There are many things to learn about life and speaking from Randy Pausch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But This is a Technical Presentation!

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Mar 5th, 2008
2008
Mar 5

 I was recently on a call to review a new technical presentation being created for the next release of a software product. I was joined by a Product Marketing Manager and a Field Readiness Manger to discuss the content of the slides and to give my feedback. Overall, the slides had a lot of great technical content and useful insights into the product.  Several of the slides, however, were overloaded with text. I stressed my belief that much of that text could be moved to the notes and that the more we used visuals instead of text, the more effective and engaging the presentation would be. Unfortunately, the person who created most of the content did not take this response as feedback (the Reflect of the Six Rs) but became defensive. When I remarked that one slide had over 100 words on it, the volume and the tension raised considerably. Then he used the fateful phrase – "But this a technical presentation!"

 

I must admit, I have used this phrase several times myself in the past, before I came to understand how heavily I was leaning on the Technical Speaker’s Crutch (more commonly known as PowerPoint). I used that phrase when I still believed that the slides were there to be both my teleprompter and a handout to give to the audience afterwards. I used that phrase before I came to discover the there is a better way, and there is science to prove it.

 

Sometime in 2003, I was searching on the web for information on how to become a more effective technical speaker. I came across an article on Wired.com entitled "PowerPoint is Evil" by Edward Tufte. That provocative title certainly got my interest. This article asserts "the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple". That article led me to Tufte’s essay on PowerPoint and the Shuttle Columbia investigation and his well known short called "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Picthing Out Corrupts Within".
 

 

Tufte rejects PowerPoint almost entirely, and I could not see a way to do my job without it completely. I wanted to find out more about how to use this tool effectivley to support my remarks, not distract from them. His points about the abuse of slideware certainly had my interest, and these articles lead to me to do more digging into learning styles, cognition, and PowerPoint.

 

I soon found this document written by Dr. Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno (presented at the annual meeting of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Los Angeles, CA in 1998). In this paper, these two Cognitive Psychologists review "a series of experiments yielding five major principles of how to use multimedia to help students understand a scientific explanation". This paper opened my mind to many new possibilities, and provided hard data to back up the assumption that less text more visuals in a slice deck was a good thing. Mayer published a book on this topic in 2001 called Multimedia Learning.  Mayer lists three assumptions of multimedia learning in the book -

  • First, the human information-processing system consists of two separate channels—an auditory/verbal channel for processing auditory input and verbal representations and a visual/pictorial channel for processing visual input and pictorial representations.
  • Second, each channel in the human information-processing system has limited capacity—only a limited amount of cognitive processing can take place in the verbal channel at any one time, and only a limited amount of cognitive processing can take place in the visual channel at any one time.
  • Third, meaningful learning requires a substantial amount of cognitive processing to take place in the verbal and visual channels.

 

Mayer updated his list in this book to Seven principles -

 

1. The Multimedia Principle: Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.
2. The Spatial Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.
3. The Temporal Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.
4. The Coherence Principle: Students learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included.
5. The Modality Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
6. The Redundancy Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration and on-screen text.
7. The Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are greater for low-knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners and for high-spatial learners than for low-spatial learners.

 

All of the principles are relevant to the conversation I described in the opening and the plea "But this a technical presentation!".  A combination of words and pictures are more effective than words alone, especially when a minimal text description appear with a visual. Narration with animation and visuals is better than any combination with on-screen text. Audiences that are new to your topic will gain an even greater benefit from these principles than those who are well versed in your topic.

 

Even when "this is a technical presentation" you should aim for a high degree of retention and influence of your audience. If not, why bother preparing and speaking if you do NOT actually want to communicate? I cannot imagine taking the time and effort to prepare a presentation for an audience when you do not intend to communicate the value of your thoughts and ideas. If you want your technical presentation to be successful, I suggest reading Mayer’s work and implementing these principles into your preparation and presentation.

 

 

 

 

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