You’re talking to teens five minutes after you just gave a rousing 20 minute talk. “What do you remember about the talk? What stood out to you?”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Think about the best talk you’ve ever heard. What do you remember? Probably very little. For an even more sobering effect, try this experiment: listen to a talk (podcast, video, Sunday homily, etc) and the following day write down as much as you can remember about it.
There are two simple scientific facts about the way our brains memorize things that can help you help teens memorize what’s important in your talk.
Serial Positioning Effect
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the Serial Positioning Effect by a simple experiment where people were asked to memorize and recall a list of 10-20 items in any order. He found that the first items on a list are recalled far easier than the middle items (known specifically as the primacy effect) and that the same was true of the last items at the end of the list (the recency effect). The last items on a list are recalled the easiest by a large margin.
That means that if you are trying to memorize this list of words:
It would be a lot easier if you divided up the list like this:
So in a talk the things you say at the beginning and end will be recalled later far easier, with the end of your talk being recalled the easiest by far.
Von Restorn Effect
Hedwig von Restorff described this effect in 1933 (also known as the isolation effect) which states that items that stand out like a sore thumb are more easily remembered. This seems pretty self-intuitive. I’m sure as a youth minister you take advantage of this effect often (whether consciously or not).
Try memorizing this list of items:
Zombie Bill Murray
There are a few ways you can make something stick out. Our brains love patterns so the easiest way to do this is by breaking a pattern. But it is important to realize that making everything extremely bizzare or stand out has the reverse impact. Think about tv commercials or billboard ads. If everything tries to stand out and grab your attention the effect is that you ignore all of them the same. To take advantage of this, you need to be very intentional and selective in your use of it.
The Serial Positioning Effect states we remember things at the beginning and end way better than anything else. We remember the end the best.
The Von Restorff Effect states we remember things that stand out.
Here are some examples of ways to take advantage of these two effects in giving talks, teaching, or trying to get teens to memorize something. Some utilize one or the other or both effects.
- If you are trying to get teens to memorize the 12 Apostles, divide the list into 4 groups of 3 names
- At the end of class on the Primacy of Peter stand on top of your desk and recite the most important thing you want them to remember. Ex: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” or “Jesus made Peter the first apostle and for 2,000 years this line of Popes has never been broken.”
- During your talk on Confirmation and Pentecost, pull out a can of WD-40 and a lighter. Then recite “You will be clothed with POWER from on high, when the Holy Spirit comes to you. And you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Have the kids scream it while you torch a teddy bear or something. Okay maybe just torch the air.
- Make sure that within the first 10 minutes of youth group the most important thing you want to get across is communicated clearly to the teens. Ex: As soon as teens walk in the door you give them all a slip of paper that says “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 and have everyone recite it out loud.
- Limit the points of your talk that you want to get across to no more than 3. The first and last will be remembered the best. Make the second one stand out like a sore thumb.
What do you think? Does this help? Try one or both of these approaches during your next talk and ask kids the next day what they remembered from the talk. Take note, adjust, and experiment accordingly.