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Tricks of the Trade: The Ultimate Aides Memoire


In the first of our three-part Tricks of the Trade series, Clive Lewis, MD of Illumine Training, explains how to become a master of memory.

Most people are hugely impressed by those who have the ability to recall events, statistics or detailed information at just the right moment. People who can accurately recite a quote or who, when asked, remember precise facts and figures.

But how do you become a master of memory? And are they relevant to work?

It is my argument that those people who know how to marshal their mental resources and draw effortlessly on what they know have a significant advantage in business. Just think of the leader needing to make a powerful presentation, the salesman needing to engage his customer, the student needing to answer questions in a qualifying exam or the interviewee wanting to impress a potential employer. These are all examples where having a good memory could be vital.

And let me challenge the idea that you are somehow born with a good or poor memory. This is nonsense. Some people have just learned how to use their memories effectively. And you can too.

There are three main areas to focus on if you want to improve your memory and these are imagination, association and location.

Imagination concerns the creative way in which you can transform information into memorable images. For example, what is the difference between a presentation that is memorable and one that makes you fall asleep. The answer is probably that the one that is dull completely failed to fire your imagination. So if you want to remember information the trick is to use your creative imagination to bring it to life.

Association is all about the connections you make every day from one subject to another. In other words, one thing reminds you of another. When it comes to memory this is a technique that you can use to great advantage. If you want to remember someone's name all you have to do is consciously think of an association with that name. Clive Lewis, for example, may be easier to remember if you think of someone famous with the same Christian name (e.g. Clive Woodward or Clive Owen) and the town in Sussex (Lewes). You will have your own associations here but the important consideration is that can use associative techniques for any key piece of data that is important for you to memorise.

Location is all about physical settings. Think of a friend and the chances are you will visualise him or her in a particular place. Forget where you left your mobile and you will probably have to retrace your steps in your mind, going back from place to place until you remember where you put it down. What we can see from this is that location is an anchor for memory - and some of the most powerful memory systems use location as their key underpinning principle.

What these three aspects also share is the issue of stimulating interest. If you are not interested in what you are learning, seeing or hearing then, quite simply, you won't remember it. In contrast, if you can develop an attitude where you are interested in what you are learning that will allow you to maintain your attention, engage with the material you are trying to take in, remember it and, importantly, be able to recall it.

So finally, a memory system for you to take away.

Favourite place system
The 'favourite place system' is a great way to memorise information, especially when you want to remember something in sequence. The technique starts with you thinking of a journey that you know well (this can be inside or outside). Think of a route that you take regularly and identify, say, 20 landmarks that you know on that route. These landmarks are the pegs on which you will hang the information you need to remember.

Once you have these landmarks clearly in mind, simply associate with each one of them a piece of information that you want to memorise. For example let us say that you are completing an examination or piece of formal learning and the first of the 20 facts you want to memorise is 'vision' - then this would be the word you would hang on your first landmark. If your first landmark is your front door then you would mentally create a door with vision. Perhaps this would look like a door with an eye drawn on it or perhaps you create a door in the shape of an eye. The important thing here is to make your imagery personal and memorable, to use your imagination and play with it.

Once you were happy that you have the word or fact attached to the landmark you then go on with your journey and repeat the process - and in this way you build up a failsafe memory path.

Importantly such techniques as this are simple and enjoyable to learn and apply. I regularly work with people who think they have a truly terrible memory and within half an hour I can demonstrate to them that they can transform their beliefs and capabilities. For many leaders and managers generating such a transformation in such a short time can seem almost miraculous.

* Illumine is Tony Buzan's preferred partner in corporate and public sector training. For more details go to or call 01753 866633.


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