by: Nick Morgan
First the bad news. Yoga does not significantly boost your memory. Very good for you in many ways – I practice it (a little, not enough) and recommend it to all and sundry – but not a memory booster.
You’re waiting for some good news. It is this: you can boost memory significantly by engaging in proprioceptive activities. Why is that good news, for speakers? Because you can, by extension, boost your audience’s working memory by getting them to engage in proprioceptive activities.
Working memory is important because it is the stuff that allows you to pay attention, form arguments, and respond to the debate swirling around you. Very useful for your life in the boardroom or the organization.
And very useful for public speaking. You can’t give your speech if you can’t remember it, and you can’t respond in the moment to things like Q and A, or cranky audience members, or new ideas, without a strong working memory.
And then, as I suggested, you can’t get your audience to remember what you’ve said if its working memory is moribund.
Once again the bad news. What are proprioceptive activities? Well, one of the best is climbing trees. Not something that is easily arranged unless you’re speaking to your audience in a forest.
Proprioceptive activities are those which increase the body’s awareness of itself in space. Walking a maze, navigating a cocktail party with a glass in one hand and a plateful of canapés in the other. Avoiding your boss when you see her coming down the hall by ducking into the copy room. Climbing a tree.
The effect is non-trivial – a recent study showed that climbing a tree, and other such proprioceptive activities increased working memory by 50%. That’s huge. And it’s quick – the effect is pretty much instantaneous.
The key is physical “activities that make us think,” as the study’s author, Dr. Ross Alloway, notes – and he expands: “By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and the boardroom.”
So what proprioceptive activities could benefit speakers? Well, the research suggests that exercise that involves motion, and particularly unpredictable motion, before a speech, would benefit your working memory, quickly and significantly. So, a quick walk around the conference hall before your speech, perhaps. Or, if there’s a backstage area, go explore that. Talk to the lighting and sound folks and tour their space, if you are permitted to do so.
And finally for the really hard part. How about your audience? After all, if the audience doesn’t remember the speech, you might as well not have given it. So increasing the audience’s working memory before – or even during – the speech would make sense because you’d be increasing the likelihood that they will be able to absorb your presentation successfully.
Can it be done? It suggests a very particular kind of activity would make sense, either at the beginning of the speech, or mid-way through, if you can work it naturally and thematically into the talk. Get the audience to stand up, find someone they don’t know, and interact with them. Navigating the space, with all those other people doing the same thing, while looking for a strange face, will require the audience member to engage in proprioceptive activity.
That activity could potentially fit well with a number of talks and presentations. Not all, but many.
What other proprioceptive activities could you ask the audience to engage in to increase its working memory? What’s at stake is a 50% boost in their ability to retain your speech, so get to work.
About the Author
I’m passionate about communications, especially public speaking.
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