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Storytelling Helps Us Remember More than the Standard Seven Data Points

Mike Speiser recently wrote on the GigaOM Network that “our short-term memory is widely believed to have a capacity of seven elements, plus or minus two,” which is the reason, Speiser notes, “that U.S. phone numbers have seven digits.”

If you connect items (or data points) together as a story, Speiser writes, you can remember more than the standard seven elements.

As an example, Speiser offers the BBC video below, which shows former memory champion Andi Bell recalling the details of 520 playing cards (10 decks) — every card in its exact position — after reviewing the cards for just 20 minutes.

Bell doesn’t even mention the word “story” in his explanation of his technique, though. He calls it his “location technique.”

But the clip’s narrator points out that “when we commit a fact to memory, we create a neural pathway to it.” Stories are a way to create (enhance? reinforce? I don’t know enough about neuroscience to know exactly the right verb) those neural pathways.

You might not be that interested in learning memory tricks. But let’s say you wanted your audience to remember a number of data points when you deliver a presentation to them. Or let’s say you want an employer to remember the accomplishments and results you’ve achieved when you’re interviewing for a new job.

Storytelling is the way to go.