Improving your memory is a hot topic, but what if you want to influence someone else’s memory—especially when it comes to how (or if) they will remember you? It's an important thing to consider since being forgettable can be toxic when it comes to success, says cognitive scientist Carmen Simon, author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.
"[People] will likely forget up to 90% of what you communicate, and that means your brand, your message, your call to action, everything you want your listeners to act on, will be disregarded," she says. "To be on people’s minds, you must become part of their reflexes, habits and/or goals they consider valuable."
That means being more purposeful about the things you do and say. Here are seven habits memorable people adopt to stay top of mind:
Natural selection favors those who can accurately predict the future, and our brains have evolved to believe that surprise is bad, says Simon. "There’s a great mental paradox when the surprise isn’t bad," she says. "Incorporating an unexpected narrative or surprise in your message will generate a fight-or-flight response, but an enjoyable one."
Since the brain likes to move toward patterns, doing something unexpected will be a departure from the norm, making you more memorable, says Simon. For example, instead of an email, send a hand-written thank you note, a gesture that is becoming more and more rare. Or break one of your industry "rules" by dressing differently than everyone else.
Humans generally react first to outside stimuli through the limbic system of the brain, which incudes things like danger, security, or pleasure. And regardless of your opinion of him, Donald Trump is a good example of how this tactic can make you memorable, says Scott Sobel, senior strategy and communications executive for KGlobal.
"When Trump labels somebody as lazy, lying, little or otherwise, or speaks about building walls to protect us, our primal brain recognizes the underlying primal meaning, and synthesizes those statements through our cognitive brain and creates an image and memory," he says. "It is really hard for us to get rid of those initial memories. Trump is a master a leaving us with memorable images that tap into our primal needs."
This brain connection can be used in a positive way when approaching another person, says Sobel. "Ask yourself, ‘What can I provide them to help protect them, make them more successful or safe, even feel better about themselves because they know you and what you can give them?’’
People who are genuine in helping others succeed are memorable, says Joseph Weintraub, founder and director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program at Babson College. "Those who actually run interference for others and open doors so that people can actually do the job they were hired to do are remembered fondly even years later," he says.
This can also include sharing information, Weintraub adds. "Going out of your way to share information with others without being asked is one of the best ways to be memorable since so few actually do this," he says. "It is a principle that has been around a long time: if you want people to share with you, share with them."
Agreeing with everything and everyone becomes white noise, says Dan Weedin, author of Unleashed Leadership: Maximizing Talent & Performance by Opening the Gates of Opportunity. People who are memorable are willing to voice their opinion, even if it goes against the crowd. "Even if one agrees with the concept, they must find a different way of framing it to create interest," he says.
One of the best ways to be remembered is to perform at levels that consistently go beyond the "tried and true," says Weintraub. "There is a big difference between talking and doing," he says. "Those who consistently exceed expectations and are always looking for ways to perform at higher levels, and then perform at those levels, both individually and organizationally, are remembered and valued by those around them."
Memorable people are often good at telling stories, says Weedin. "Stories stick," he says. "You’ll find these in both your professional and personal life, and those people that can match a story with a message are even more notable."
Simon agrees, and says that adding visuals to stories helps you be memorable. "Processing visuals is more efficient than processing text," she says. "Use language to create a mental picture. Your subject will remember those words as accurately as if they were shown pictures."
"In an age where perspicacity around vocabulary seems to be on the decline, those with a strong one stand out," says Weedin. "It should never be meant to be snobbish, rather a component of creating a better understanding with the right words," he says.
Memorable people also engage in "verbal pyrotechnics," adds Matt Stewart, vice president of the PR firm Antenna Group. "Incorporate analogies, dynamic turns of phrase, keeping it colorful," he says. "This approach also stamps out jargony group speak and beige generalities that quickly fade."