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The Power Of Visual Memory Techniques

It's amazing the lengths to which companies will go to grab your attention... and then your money.

Last weekend I was innocently walking down Swanston Street in Melbourne when I was accosted by a gorilla - yes, a big hairy ape - handing out leaflets for some super-duper new mobile phone deal.

Now I knew straight away that it wasn't a real gorilla - because everybody knows that gorillas don't use mobile phones (their fingers are way too fat), let alone spend their Saturday mornings selling cell phones to strangers on Swanston Street.

It was actually a man dressed, rather convincingly, as a gorilla. But it did succeed in grabbing my attention… if not my money. It also got me thinking about apes in general, which I must confess I probably don't do enough of.

And this brought back a deep and distant childhood memory of staring at the TV set one evening with a furrowed brow and a mild sense of confusion as the BBC presenter gravely announced the breaking news...

...that gorillas had taken 12 people hostage in some far away sounding country.

How odd.

Images of irate gorillas wearing ammunition belts and toting machine guns immediately sprung to mind, quickly followed by the inevitable questions…

Where had they gotten their guns from? How would they possibly be able to squeeze the triggers with such stumpy fat fingers? And what had driven them to this drastic and unapelike action?

Even back then it seemed a little strange. But being young and naïve I still believed that what you heard on the news was true. I now know that this isn't always the case - and that it was most probably 'guerillas' holding people captive, not over-sized monkeys. But that didn't stop my young brain from instantly and automatically creating a vivid, memorable image that I can still recall now… more than 30 years later.

Such is the power of strong visual images.

And therein resides the incredible power of visual memory techniques.

Marketing people know this all too well. Indeed, advertisers use this knowledge to get us to remember stuff all the time. Take Apple's classic TV campaign from some time ago which you may recall all started with 'Hello, I'm a Mac... and I'm a PC.'

These ads are memorable for a whole host of reasons including their use of simple but memorable visual images.

In one of the ads, PC has a slightly sinister, secret service looking type guy dressed all in black standing behind him and issuing security warnings each time he tries to converse with Mac. In another ad, PC is sitting on a hospital trolley along with 3 other afflicted people (PCs) waiting to go in for an operation to be fixed. And in another, an IT guy awkwardly attempts an upgrade by attaching a webcam to the top of PC's head using a roll of duct tape.

If you've seen any of the above ads you'll know what I'm talking about.

In fact, I'll bet that you can easily picture the scenes I'm referring to. And I'm also willing to wager my complete collection of Simpsons DVDs (yep, all 20 years worth) that you didn't stay up late last night memorising Mac adverts.

Such is the power of visual memory techniques.

But the main reason for mentioning these ads, is that they also use another very powerful memory tool - one that you too can apply to help you remember almost anything you like.


The use of one thing to help communicate another. Or when it comes to memory, the use of one image to remind you of something else. Apple's ads very effectively employ symbolism...

...secret service agent = security issues

...hospital trolley = operating problems

...webcam and duct tape = external peripherals
(in contrast to Mac's inbuilt gizmos).

Visual images which reinforce - and at the same time help to communicate - the key message of each advert.

So now for the fun bit. A few quick examples of how can you use strong visual images - plus symbolism - in your day to day life to help you remember stuff.

Remembering to tell people stuff…

You've got a new colleague at work and someone mentions that it's their birthday. You'd like to remember to ask them about their birthday next time you see them. Take just a second and imagine the person wearing a party hat and blowing one of those streamer thingies.

Or ripping open a huge birthday present.

Or balancing a birthday cake on their head.

Or someone running up and shouting happy birthday, shoving the cake in their face and running off.

Or lit candles coming out of the top of their head.

Or... ok I think you get the idea. You can probably come up with lots of things that will remind you, but you only need one.

Remembering to do stuff...

When you get to work you must, must, must remember to call H.R. and let them know your new bank account details first thing, otherwise you won't get paid next week.

Just imagine a big brown bag of cash sitting on your desk at work.

Or if you're really well paid, perhaps a few gold bars.

Or your family holding empty plates and looking really hungry.

Or that attractive young guy or girl from the bank sitting in your chair.

Or someone from the H.R. department waving their finger (or a big stick, depending upon where you work) and shouting at you because you forgot.

Or… whatever springs to mind.

Remembering names...

You meet someone called Donna at a party. You'd like to remember her name. Perhaps Donna makes you think of donner... kebabs. Now Donna is a classy lady and usually only ever eats caviar and drinks champers. But try instead to imagine her greedily tucking into a big juicy kebab... as the garlic sauce dribbles down her fancy frock.

Or just picture her working in your local kebab shop.

Or... anything you like, as long as it makes sense to you.

You just think of something - anything - which reminds you of the thing you want to remember.

It's that easy.

And because your brain naturally thinks in pictures all the time, you'll soon find that remembering stuff becomes quick, easy and dare I say it, almost as much fun as dressing up as a gorilla. Which reminds me, I must buy a new mobile phone.

The Final Word: Start deliberately creating mental images which remind you of the things you need to remember. Use your imagination, a dash of symbolism and even the odd monkey.

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