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“Write what should not be forgotten.”

-Isabel Allende

Fly back in time for a moment and think of a teacher from grade school. Do you have them in mind? Now, recall a lesson they taught you some years back. Why did this lesson stick? Especially after all these years?

Now fast forward to last week. Think about all the emails, letters, memo’s, or social media updates you read. Can you remember even half of them? It’s likely you can’t even remember 95%.

So how can a lesson taught years ago stick, and something as recent as last week become forgotten almost instantly?

Dan and Chip Heath tackled this in their book “Made to Stick.” In this article, I’ll cover the six principles they outline in their book, all in hopes of helping you deliver information that becomes memorable.

Let’s get started on figuring out why people are forgetting what you’re saying (and how to get them to remember).


1. You don’t simplify things

Simple SW Article

We live in a day and age where 140 characters or less reigns supreme. Our attention is waning by the day. As such, it’s natural to see why complexity becomes a cause for information being forgotten; or worse, not even being considered in the first place.

In order to not lose someone at “hello,” be sure to break information down into simple forms. It doesn’t mean “dumb it down.” There’s a difference. Simple means removing unnecessary details and stripping concepts to the core.

A huge note, beware of the “curse of knowledge.” It hijacks our ability to simplify information. Just think about a doctor visit where you walked away scratching your head asking, “what did they just say?” In such cases, the doctor was too advanced medically, and they forgot how to communicate to a layman.

2. You don’t incorporate the element of surprise

Surprise SW Article

As individuals, we anticipate, expect, and even predict things. It’s a commonality we share and is rather automatic. However, when things don’t go our way, it’s surprising or shocking. And those surprising or shocking situations stick like glue in our memory. It’s the reason failure is remembered in more detail than successes at times.

As you communicate, find a way to surprise the person or audience you’re informing. Incorporating the element of surprise will snap someone to attention, and they become primed to listen carefully. Delivering information this way reduces the likelihood of people tuning you out and forgetting every word.

3. You don’t deliver concrete information

Concrete Info SW Article

People like specifics. They want the details so they can wrap their heads around the information better. When they have concrete information, concepts or ideas are not up for interpretation; they are sound.

If people forget what you said, your information or ideas are too abstract. They are diluted with interpretation. And people can’t attach real substance to make the information stick.

A good way of delivering concrete information, as described by the Heath brothers, is to deliver in a way that describes or detects human senses. This way the information can be relatable and become memorable.

4. You don’t have credibility, or your information lacks it

Credibility SW Article

If a stranger begins talking about the economy with you, chances are you’ll be half involved in the conversation. But have that stranger be Alan Greenspan and, well, you’ll likely hang on every word. Why? Because his level of credibility captures your attention.

If you lack credibility personally, then you’ll want to ensure your information is laced with credible facts or figures. Having credible information helps people digest and remember, and they’ll be less likely to tune you out with skepticism or disbelief.

5. You don’t establish an emotional connection

Emotional Connection SW Article

Let’s face it, we’re emotional creatures. Every individual, each day of the week, experiences a flood of emotions. And one thing is sure, when emotions are at play, people tend to remember.

For your information to become imprinted, you need to touch an emotional chord. Not just any emotion. The trick is to bring about something that makes them care about the information. Whether you point out injustice, or you lift them with joy, find a way to touch people’s emotions and your information won’t be forgotten.

6. You don’t tell stories

Tell Stories SW Article

It started at a young age for everyone; hearing stories. They intrigued us while simultaneously teaching us lessons. It’s how we began paying attention to things. And this continues into adulthood.

If we know people like stories, then it’s natural to understand that incorporating stories in your messaging will help the information stick. You can’t just spew out facts or data and expect people to pay attention and remember. However, you can tell a great story mixed with the same information, and people will remember.

Final thought

Chip and Dan Heath have a pneumonic device covered in their book to help people remember just how to make things stick. The word is SUCCESs; Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credibility, Story. And yes, they throw in the last “s” to complete the word.

Find a way to incorporate each of these principles in your communication, written or oral, and it’s guaranteed people will remember what you say each and every time!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read. And please pass along to friends, family, or coworkers who could use the advice!