Have you ever walked into a room and couldn’t remember what you went in there for? Or maybe you’ve grasped the hand of a potential client and, when the handshake broke, their name seemed to disappear from your memory? Have you ever left a meeting with a prospect only to remember a key point that you should have shared with them as you drove away?
Of course you have—we all have. However, I have some great news for you. Your memory is nowhere near as bad as you may think it is.
At one point, I was a guest at a radio station in Waco, Texas. The disc jockey wrote a 50-digit number on a sheet of paper, read it to his listening audience and then played a three-minute song.
As the listeners enjoyed the song I memorized the 50-digit number. When the song was over and we went back live on the air, I handed him the paper. I then proceeded to say the number forward and backward. The disc jockey looked at me in utter disbelief and said, “Ron… you are incredible!”
I looked him straight in the eye and replied, “You know… you are right!”
“Jay, the greatest computer ever created does not come from Dell or Apple. The greatest computer ever created does not sit on the assembly line of a computer factory. Instead, you and I are the greatest computers ever created. And yes… you are right. I am incredible… but so are you,” I said.
The human memory has the ability to memorize thousands of numbers, a full set of lines in a Shakespearean play or even entire buildings and landscapes—but the question is, are you doing these things? If not, the reason is possibly because you have not been trained to.
The method of loci
Around 2,500 years ago a Greek named Simonides developed the method of loci—also known as the memory palace technique—though similar memorization methods existed long before Simonides. With this method, you create a floor plan of whatever place will become your memory palace, choosing and memorizing locations and objects along your path. Once you’ve created your path and selected objects, associate memories or information to the object or location they have some subjective connection with. You can also imagine yourself placing the items you need to recall along a linear path around your memory palace.
So, let’s say that you are a professional who wants to give a speech without notes. Simply turn the key points into pictures and then file them in your memory according to the method of loci. When you have to to speak, mentally walk through your memory palace, and you’ll discover that you are able to give your talk without notes.
For example, I gave a one-hour keynote in Atlanta at a home-builders conference. I wrote my speech out the night before and filed key points in my memory palace. The first thing I wanted to do was talk about the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, so I visualized the book on my front door. Then, as I mentally walked through my house, I was able to give the one-hour talk without notes. That can work for you as well. Anything that you want to recall, simply turn it into a picture and place it in your memory palace. You are the greatest computer.
This article was published in February 2008 and has been updated. Photo by Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock