Making Messages Memorable: Techniques for Lasting Impact

To ensure our messages are truly memorable, it is essential to leverage storytelling, employ simple and chronological structures, utilize analogies and figures of speech, and keep concepts concrete. These techniques serve as vehicles for conveying ideas in a way that engages and sticks in the minds of our audience. By making our messages memorable, we increase the likelihood of our ideas resonating and leaving a lasting impact.

Josh Ether

12/4/20202 min read

In order to make our messages truly memorable, there are several effective strategies we can employ. One crucial approach is to incorporate storytelling, as stories have a unique power to captivate and leave a lasting impression. Let me illustrate this with the story of Willie Horton, which had a significant impact on George Bush Senior's campaign against Dukakis in 1988.

During this tightly contested campaign, both candidates were polling similarly, making it a challenging race. Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager, famously stated that by the end of it, people would wonder if Willie Horton was Dukakis' running mate. Willie Horton, a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder, was granted a furlough under a Massachusetts program that aimed to encourage good behavior. Unfortunately, during his weekend furlough, he committed rape and stabbed a woman's husband. Although Dukakis himself didn't personally grant the furlough, he had defended and supported the program, which became a central issue during the campaign. The story of Willie Horton overshadowed other key events and policy discussions, ultimately derailing Dukakis' bid for the presidency.

While this example demonstrates the potency of a vivid and impactful story, there are other techniques we can employ to make our messages memorable. Keeping things simple and chronological can enhance recall. Concrete examples are more accessible to memory, such as the iconic photograph that comes to mind when we think of Afghan refugees. Utilizing analogies and figures of speech can also aid in memory retention. For instance, phrases like "Copyrights are property" or "We are only as strong as our weakest link" are easy to understand and remember, as they draw on familiar concepts. Similarly, memorable figures of speech like "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit" from the OJ Simpson trial or "loose lips sink ships" resonate and stick in our minds.

Another effective way to ensure memorability is by keeping messages concrete. When John F. Kennedy proclaimed the goal of putting a man on the moon within a decade, it provided a tangible and ambitious target for people to rally behind. In the 1960s, Boeing set a concrete goal for their 727 aircraft: it must seat 131 passengers, fly non-stop from Miami to New York, and land on a specific runway in La Guardia that was less than a mile long. By setting these specific attributes, they focused their efforts and achieved a remarkable feat.

However, we must be cautious not to narrow our focus excessively, as demonstrated by the Ford Pinto case. Lee Iacocca, then CEO of Ford, aimed to create a car weighing under 2,000 pounds and priced under $2,000. The result was the Ford Pinto, infamously referred to as the "barbeque that seats four" due to a design flaw that caused the fuel tank to ignite in rear-end collisions. Tragically, this flaw led to numerous deaths and the Ford Pinto being labeled one of the 50 worst cars of all time. While the concrete goal drove action, it also exposed the dangers of neglecting other critical aspects.