Publisher’s Note: This post was written by Jay Prewitt, who is the newest member of our team, and is a Facilitator and Coach with us at The Latimer Group. Jay is pursuing a EdD in Organizational Leadership at the University of Southern California, and brings a wonderful voice and perspective to our team and to our readers. We are proud to have Jay with us, and are excited for his first post on our platform. We know you will enjoy his voice, just as we do.
Welcome Jay! – Dean Brenner
Let’s do a deeper dive into the science of effective communication. I am focusing on the work of Dr. Richard Mayer to illuminate the process of learning and cognition. Dr. Mayer is a renowned educational psychologist and a trailblazer in the field. In a 2010 article from the Medical Education journal, Dr. Mayer explains how medical education can benefit from applying science to the application of multimedia. This advice is pertinent to us as well, as we strive to be persuasive communicators.
Here is a snapshot of how our brain processes information: The brain processes audio and visual signals on different channels, and there is a limited capacity for incoming data. The Incoming stimuli received on these channels are processed in three ways. First, sensory memory handles information we need immediately but don’t need to remember long term, such as the process of driving a car in traffic. The brain ejects these data in less than a second. For example, we do not need to remember the color of every vehicle we see on the highway. The next level is working memory, where we store information necessary to get things done and where most of the processing occurs. Unfortunately, the brain kicks out unorganized information at around 30 seconds, and only a few items can be processed simultaneously (this is why multitasking is a myth!). Finally, long-term memory is the brain’s hard drive and the holy grail of world-class communicators. Information is embedded in long-term memory from working memory by organizing words and images through elaboration, repetition, and previously stored prior knowledge.
We can apply the suggestions Dr. Mayer has for medical education to what we do every day. So, with the above in mind, here are three concepts to consider on the path to becoming a master communicator.
Reduce extraneous processing: Working memory is doing a lot to keep up and needs our assistance. Extraneous processing occurs when incoming data are unnecessary to the learning process or complicates it, like the unalignment of related text and images. When we craft a message with text, verbalized words, and pictures moving tandemly, we are more likely to impact long-term memory. If the learner is wasting time during your communication trying to align these three, the brain will kick it out of working memory. A master communicator creates a message that reduces noise and confusion to reinforce the intended learning goal. Remember that in today’s world, we are fighting a cognitive uphill battle. Cognitive overload has become our usual way of life. TLG often suggests that you make your communication the easiest part of your audience’s day.
Manage essential and generative processing: Make the information processing model work for you, not against you. If your subject is complex, pre-train the learner by giving out some information in advance to introduce concepts and definitions. Segment complicated information into small, easily digested chunks. Remember eating the elephant is done one bite at a time! Think about organizing information through schema, or codification of ideas, to assist the brain in organizing your message. Organization is the critical process the brain uses in working memory to make sense of information and package it for potential deposit to long-term memory. Repetition and elaboration are the heart and soul of the executive summary open and close, so use it effectively.
Utilize prior knowledge: The flow chart of Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning has one bridge connecting working memory to long-term memory: prior knowledge. It is imperative to know your audience well and make an emotional and intellectual connection during communication. The best way to impact your learner is to connect your message to something they are already familiar with and that they value. Prior knowledge is more than just what your learner already knows about your subject. Prior knowledge includes what they know about you, your role, your department, your organization, their perception of your intentions and goals, how they experience their local ecosystem, and how that experience affects the perception of external ecosystems.
Make sure your communication does not get caught up in the traffic jam of incoming information. Use the tools above to craft your message in a way that will work with the brain’s processing system instead of against it.
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