How can I get my big ideas to stick? Try these five practical strategies.
Five science-backed tips and tricks to help you and your ideas be more memorable
You know those big ideas you shared at your meeting yesterday?
Well, I have some bad news.
Practically everyone has already forgotten them.
Well – at least, statistically, they have.
People forget almost everything.
Research shows that, within an hour of hearing new information, people forget about 50% of what they heard.
Within a day, that number rises to 70%.
These are NOT encouraging numbers if you want people to understand and remember what you have to say.
But it’s critical to your success as a leader and as an organization.
Leaders who can’t communicate memorably struggle to get big things done.
There’s a big disconnect between their strategies and what actually gets executed.
They can’t galvanize people around their ideas.
And their teams are disengaged – not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand why they SHOULD care.
But fortunately, there are a few simple communication tips and tricks to help you make what you say more memorable.
In this article, I want to share five of them with you. Think of them as clubs in your golf bag, and consider which strategy to pull out the next time you have a big idea that needs to stick.
Let’s get to it!
1. Keep it simple
When you’re excited about a big idea, it’s all too easy to share every detail of your research and planning.
But if you want people to actually remember the idea, then you have to find ways to simplify it.
For me, nothing illustrates this better than the story Larry Merlo shared in our conversation on my podcast, How Leaders Lead.
Early on in his tenure as the CEO of CVS Health, he gathered 400 of his top leadership people and put two statements on the wall. One was their current mission statement, and the other was the current vision statement.
He asked all 400 people to tell him which one was which.
Only 50% of people identified them correctly. (And as you math whizzes have probably already figured out, that’s basically just the same result as guessing!)
Larry knew those statements were too complicated for people to remember. And more importantly, he knew how that lack of simplicity was affecting their whole organization.
“If we can’t answer that question as the leadership of the company,” he said, “then how good a job are we doing leading the thousands of individuals that are counting on us?”
He and his team replaced those bloated statements with a single, simplified purpose. It was just eight words. The purpose of CVS was to “help people on their way to better health.”
That simple message permeated the organization all the way to the front lines. Eventually, it became a north star to some profound changes at CVS.
(You can hear the whole story when you listen to Larry’s full episode.)
It’s a powerful reminder to prioritize simplicity when you need people to remember what you have to say.
2. Tell stories
Steve Jobs said, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.”
And he’s right!
When you know how to tell a story, you can captivate people’s hearts and minds.
In his book Made to Stick, Chip Heath shares a story from his classroom at Stanford. He asks students to give one-minute presentations on a certain topic. Shortly afterward, he asks them to write down everything they remember from those talks.
After just ten minutes, only 5% of students can remember even just one statistic from those talks.
But 63% can recall a story.
We’re wired to remember stories.
Whenever you need to get people to listen – and actually remember – what you have to say, tell a story that brings your idea to life.
Draw upon customer stories, history, or your own personal experiences.
Whatever story you tell, make it relevant to your overall point so you don’t risk sounding self-indulgent.
But keep all the funny moments and real-life details we all love to hear in stories – and most importantly, have fun telling it!
3. Repeat yourself
Remember that stat I shared earlier? That, on average, we forget 50% of what we learn within an hour and 90% of what we learn after a day?
It’s discouraging, I know…
But here’s some good news.
One of the best ways to beat this “forgetting curve,” as it’s called, is through review and repetition.
Research shows that regularly reviewing information helps people retain it. People forget less and less information with every point of review, in fact.
This isn’t news to you, of course – it’s why we remember the choruses of songs more than the verses.
And as a leader, you have to use this reality to your advantage!
Repeat your big ideas over and over, and do it regularly.
Find a way to go over your points in meetings, emails, and any time you have the floor.
In fact, if you’re not sick of saying it, you probably haven’t said it enough!
Repeat whatever you want to get repeated and remembered.
When you do, you’ll find your ideas stick faster – and that others will also repeat them for you!
4. Use the element of surprise
People get a lot of messages thrown at them every day.
According to research from the University of California San Diego, Americans consume about 34 gigabytes of data every day on average.
It’s no wonder we forget most of it!
But consider the things you don’t easily forget. They’re often experiences that trigger powerful emotions – like fear, joy, relief, or surprise.
And let’s talk about the last of those, the element of surprise, because it’s a powerful way to make your points more memorable.
When you have an important message to get across, find a way to surprise people. Disrupting what they expect to see or hear allows your information to stand out. What you share gets linked to that stronger emotion of surprise.
For example, you could add some offbeat imagery in your keynote presentation. You might start your email with an unexpected phrase or quote. Or you can try funny props!
During my time at Yum! Brands, I knew I wanted recognition to be the hallmark of our company culture. And to make it stick, I skipped the typical certificate of recognition and instead handed out rubber chickens!
It was unexpected and fun – and as a result, it really caught on in a way that I don’t think it would have had I chosen a more traditional token.
Use the element of surprise sparingly, though, and with good judgment. When it’s overused or poorly thought-out, you run the risk of coming across as gimmicky or even manipulative.
5. Invite participation
It’s no secret that I absolutely love to learn.
But sometimes, even when I absolutely love the key concepts in a book or a podcast, I still struggle to remember them later.
However, if I discuss those concepts with my team or my wife, then I find they stick with me much longer.
Does that ring true for you, too?
That’s the power of a brain mechanism called “elaborative rehearsal.”
It’s a fancy way of saying that we remember the things we talk about.
John Medina explores this topic in his landmark book Brain Rules.
He explains, “A great deal of research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event.”
How can we apply this concept in leadership?
Whenever you want people to remember what you say, invite them to discuss it with each other.
It’s not merely the power of repetition.
When your team actively participates in discussions about your ideas, they are more likely to find practical applications and link the concepts to their own experiences.
That makes those ideas more memorable while also creating more engagement and relevance.
Getting traction for your big ideas is key if you want to succeed as a leader.
If people forget what you say, it’s basically like you haven’t said anything at all.
To get your ideas to take shape in your organization, your team HAS to remember them.
And these five practical strategies will help! By keeping your ideas simple, telling stories, using repetition, leveraging surprise, and inviting participation, you’ll find your ideas stick more quickly, and for longer.
What tips and tricks do you use to communicate more memorably?