Ever left a workshop unable to recall what happened in the first half of the day? That first point you thought was so epic that you’d never have to write down to remember? The anecdote that made you laugh and nod around 11 a.m? And…what did you have for lunch? No, you’re not sieve-brained. You’re simply a human who has fallen victim to the dreaded ‘Forgetting Curve’.
The Forgetting Curve “hypothesizes the decline of memory retention in time” and says that after a matter of mere days, we humans tend to remember only about 50% of newly learned info unless there’s something compelling us to remember. That compelling element can be anything from consciously reviewing material soon after training, actively using the knowledge, or having positively associated or easy to recall memories so as to cement it in the mind. In short, it sticks if you read it, use it, or had a memorable hoot doing it.
As a trainer, I may have little to no control over the first two elements of retention (despite my best efforts), but I sure as hell have power over the third!
Let me caveat what’s coming up next. I’m a rebel monkey. I started a training company to try and help people just like me who would rather repeatedly poke themselves in the eye with a fork than sit through a day long workshop. I built my company by asking myself what would engage me, make me laugh and think and remember. As a result, the resulting company has a reputation for being weirdly and wonderfully irreverent…and effective. We may have a lot of madness, but there really is method to it.
When we introduce concepts, do’s and don’ts, and best practices, we give them freaky names, create mnemonics, provide weird hand gestures and sometimes even a crazy accent or two. We ask people to repeat mantras, go through motions, and laugh hard along the way. I know that some of you may be thinking “HELL NO” right about now, but you would be amazed at how much people love it – and more importantly, how much they remember these ideas even years later.
Here’s a couple of examples. When we train presentation skills, one of our big no-no’s is tenting the fingers and facing the hands downward because it comes across as preachy and uptight. See exhibit A. Know what we call this? Vajayjay hands. Yup. You heard right. Vajayjay. Do you know how fast that behaviour is knocked outta people as a result? ( Side note: Following training, I receive countless unsolicited pics of bad presenters in full ‘vajayjay’ from former participants. )
Or when we teach the creativity concepts of divergence and convergence, we share a story about how we learned this from an amazing training guru from the deep south. She used her arms, YMCA style, to express the contradictory states while drawling “you got to DAH-verge before you CAWN-verge”. We then ask the whole room to get up, go deep down south and repeat the mantra with said same accent while doing the arm motions. From that moment on, every single person in the class only refers to divergence and convergence southern style, complete with accent. No lie. In fact, a few years ago I was walking through Chicago’s O’Hare airport when I heard someone yelling “HEY HEY”. I, along with everyone else, turned to see what the commotion was about. Waaaaay way down the concourse, I saw someone doing the ‘diverge / converge’ arm motions and waving wildly at me. Clearly they had remembered.
I could go on and on and explain memes like Crack Whore Barbie, fleas in a jar, flying your freak flag high, and sh*t buckets…but its way more fun if you experience them yourself – trust me. Point is, sometimes it’s the irreverent play that is the cementing factor in training. It makes remembering itself fun and the concepts just kinda piggyback into the brain cuz it feels good. Super vanilla training methods don’t tend to have that effect.
So whether you’re a trainer or participant, don’t be afraid to take some risks in how you deliver or how willing you are to dive into the experience. Just make sure there’s a legit method and rationale to the madness. Plant those memes, come up with crazy mnemonics, don’t be afraid to be irreverent, and be fearless for just one day. No one was EVER bored into learning anything new.