Dominic O’Brien is a World Memory Champion. Eight times World Memory Champion so I think he might have some really useful things to say about how to remember things. Check on some of his and other people’s thoughts at the excellent Science Museum site. The key, we are told, is to associate facts with meanings – a strategy used by professional memorisers, or mnemonists. The three techniques below all seek to make associations and therefore aid memory recall.

My intention in this post is to offer a few techniques that work and to consider the psychological research that has validated their success.

The techniques are:

  • Where to look to recall a fact
  • How to increase the likelihood of remembering especially when giving talks or speeches
  • How you can use your body to help you remember

Look up!

Looking up and to our left (if we’re right-handed) or up and to our right (if we’re left-handed) can help us recall something. Quite often the instinctive response is to ‘look to the heavens’ and then look down as we attempt to recall what it is that has escaped our minds. Overcome the urge to look down and look up, as directed. The reason that this technique works is called the proprioceptive response and you can read more about it in my blog entry here. Suffice to say you look up in the appropriate direction when you are recalling something so to recall something look up in the appropriate direction. I was speaking to my step father-in-law (an excellent recaller of facts and information by the way) one time and explained that ‘look up’ was as an excellent technique to use when wanting to recall something. He later used this technique when he needed to recall something he’d forgotten and couldn’t wait to tell me!

Use our bodies

Amazingly, not only do we think with our minds but we also use our bodies as well. We use hand gestures all the time to aid communication. It seems that, like looking up to recall, there is evidence to show that we understand language better if it’s accompanied by gestures. Researchers who were teaching Japanese verbs to English speakers discovered that when the English learners used gestures while they were learning the Japanese verbs it helped encode the memory in their minds and they were able to recall almost two times as many verbs one week later. (Kelly et al., 2009). It doesn’t report what gestures were used. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. It is the created and reinforced link between the gesture (a kinesthetic movement) and the learning of the verb that is crucial, as it creates an association between the fact and what it means to us.

Say it out loud

Finally, a very quick win here that for the person facing an interview, giving a speech or wanting to recall facts for a test, is to merely say or mouth it out loud what you want to recall. According to one study highlighted here it resulted in a small but significant improvement (around 10%).

What techniques have you used to recall information? Do write your suggestions and what’s worked for you below.