In business, it has been proven repeatedly that to succeed, one needs not to work harder but, instead, work smarter. Taking this to heart in this episode, Penny Zenker invites Chester Santos to talk about memory and how having a better memory is going to help us take back time. Known as the International Man of Memory, Chester shares with us some of his memory-building tips and tricks that will allow us to improve our productivity and sales. Join in on this brief yet memorable episode where Chester takes us into an exercise that could help us be more productive in numerous areas of our lives.
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Memory-Building Tips To Improve Your Productivity And Sales With Chester Santos
I am always looking for ways to work smarter. Sometimes it seems obvious, sometimes we have to lift the rocks, and we have to look for it. We have an interesting topic because we’re going to talk about memory and how having a better memory and being able to recall things faster is going to help us to take back time in that context. I’m excited to have Chester Santos with us. He’s an expert in this space. He was featured in TIME Magazine for his ability to remember numbers in a Special Edition for The Science of Memory. He says here that he’s an International Man of Memory and he’s left an impression on all the corners of the Earth. He’s shared his skills and expertise with CNN, ABC, PBS, NBC, CBS and the list goes on for his memory-building tips and tricks. Chester, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to talking with you.
How did you get involved in this whole Science of Memory? Why was this important to you?
How I got into the field was random. I saw a segment on ABC’s 2020, the evening news show on the United States National Memory Championship. It sparked my interest because I would often get the comment from people like, “You have a good memory.” When I saw that episode, I thought maybe I could compete, but I quickly found out that I was nowhere near the level of the best people in the United States. They were memorizing hundreds of names, 50-line poems and decks of playing cards in minutes perfectly.
That’s when I started doing research into the Science of Memory, how can I improve my memory from where it was? I did manage to win the United States Memory Championship. Since then, I’ve spent many years training other people around the world in how they can develop powerful memory skills and use those skills to become more successful in their career, personal life, and also to help their kids out or grandkids in school. I’ve presented in more than 30 different countries for various types of organizations.
This is a skill that we can learn and build. A lot of people think, “I have a bad memory and that’s it. That’s the way I was born.” What would you say to those people that say, “I don’t have it?”
Memory is a skill that anyone at all can develop. There are three simple principles that you need to keep in mind. One, turn information into visual whether it’s to remember names to get more out of business networking, whether it’s presentations, minimizing the number of notes to be more effective and professed persuasive speaker, or it’s remembering processes or procedures to save time on the job. How much time do you waste looking up the same information over and over again because you can’t remember it? You’ll use these principles and you’re going to be so much more efficient and save a lot of time.
In the case of names, somebody named Mike, you might visualize a microphone. Somebody named Alice, you might picture a white rabbit. Maybe that would remind you of Alice in Wonderland. The second principle is try from there to involve additional senses if you can. As you do that, you’re activating more areas of your brain and you’re building more and more connections in your mind to the information. I started in an episode of PBS’s Nova Science. They had me come on, perform some memory feats and then train David Pogue. People might know him from The New York Times and CBS News. After that, they had some brain scientists come on and explain how did Chester do that? How was David Pogue able to pull those feats off as well with the little training? These brain scientists confirmed it’s because with these techniques that I’ve mastered over the years and that I trained people in using more of the brain. Part of that is learning to use more senses in order to activate more of your brain. That’s the second thing.
You did a great job helping us to understand like, “Alice, you can picture rabbit and then you’ve got Alice in Wonderland.” How do we incorporate more senses? Visual is one of those senses. It’s visualizing it. Are you saying that I need to be able to smell or touch it? How do we do that?
In the case of the white rabbit, at first you would visualize the white rabbit, but then also imagine that you can smell the rabbit. Maybe even imagine that you’re petting the rabbit and you can feel the fur. They’ve done experiments in the lab where they will have someone touch something. They can see exactly what area of the brain lights up. They will then have that person merely imagine that they’re touching something and the same exact area of the brain lights up. When you imagine, smell, taste, touch, you are activating more and more areas of your brain.Memory is a skill that anyone at all can develop. Click To Tweet
If I want to remember your name for instance, I’d use those two. I could picture a chestnut and then I could smell the roasted chestnuts. It’s like that and then be able to say, “Chester.” Is it something like that?
Yes. You started with visualizing the chestnut, but as you add more senses to that mental imagery, you will be activating more areas of your brain.
What’s the third principle?
While you are seeing and experiencing all of this in your mind, try to make it weird, unusual and extraordinary in some way because there is a psychological aspect to human memory. If in the room that you’re in and people that are following along with the interview if in the room that they’re in, an elephant suddenly crashed into the room right now and started spraying water all over the place with its trunk. If that happened at this moment, you would remember that for the rest of your life and always tell that story.
Many years from now you’re like, “I have this memory guy on my show and an elephant crashed into the room while it was going on.” That would be stuck there forever without you even trying to commit it to memory. Scientists don’t understand how it works but realizing that there is that psychological aspect to human memory, we can harness it and apply it to training material like facts and figures, processes, procedures and so on. That’s the third principle.
I’ve heard people use locations. Is that part of visualization? I might take each corner of the room, put a certain name or something, use the room that I’m in to visualize and use that. Is that one of those kinds of techniques that you’re talking about?
The three main principles that I went over will always apply no matter the specific memory technique that you end up using. You described a specific technique called the Method of Loci and Roman Room Method. Nowadays, modern memorizers call it the Journey Method, but this originated with the ancient Greeks. It was known as the Method of Loci that means location. It is using locations from your environment to store information. You may have heard of it referred to as the Memory Palace Technique. I would use that technique when there are large bodies of data involved.
When you’re getting started with developing your memory skills, I would better recommend something called The Story Method. Maybe we could try an exercise that your readers can also follow along with when they read this interview. I’m going to have you try to memorize quickly the whole exercise from start to finish and take about five minutes. I’m going to have you try to commit memory, the following long random list of words. It’s going to be a monkey, iron, rope, height, house, paper, shoe, worm, envelope, pencil river, rock, tree, cheese and dollar. How most people would approach that is that they would write it out or recite it to themselves over and over again or read it until they feel that they’ve drilled it into their head.
Good luck that you’re going to try to get me to do this as my memory is not good. This is a perfect example.
You’ll have it down, believe it or not in about three minutes or so. A lot of people, when I have live audiences and I can see everyone’s face, they look at me at this point in the presentation like, “That’s not going to happen. Good luck.”
That’s what I was thinking.
That’s the first reaction. You’re going to try to keep those three main principles in mind and I’m going to guide you through creating a little story in your mind. Relax, have fun and it will be easy. The first word that I had given you was monkey. I want you to visualize in your mind a monkey. You see that in your head, there’s a monkey, and it’s dancing around. Even imagine that it’s making monkey noises, whatever a monkey would sound like. Hear that monkey in our mind, the monkey now picks up a gigantic iron because that was the next word. Imagine that the monkey is dancing around with this giant iron. The iron starts to fall, but a rope attaches itself to the iron. Maybe even feel the rope or it feels rough. Interact with that rope. You look up the rope and see that the other end of the rope is attached to a kite. Maybe you reach up and try to touch the kite, but it’s out of your reach. See the kite and the kite now crashes into the side of a house. See it in your mind that it smashed into that house. The house is completely covered in paper for some weird reason. Picture that as best as you can.
The next word I had given was paper. Out of nowhere and of thin air, a shoe appears and it starts to walk all over the paper. Maybe it’s messing up the paper as it’s walking on it. The shoe smells bad so you decide to investigate and see why. You look inside the shoe and find a little worm. See that smelly worm. The worm jumps out of the shoe and into an envelope. Maybe it’s going to mail itself or something. The envelope was the next word. See the envelope. A pencil appears out of nowhere and it starts to write all over the envelope, maybe it’s addressing it or something. The pencil jumps into a river and there’s a huge splash like you would never expect to see from that little pencil when it hits the river. The river you notice is crashing up against the giant rock.
That rock flies out of the river and it crashes into a tree. This tree is growing cheese. You probably haven’t seen a tree like that. Out of each piece of cheese shoots a dollar. The last word was dollar. I’m going to run through this again in about 30 seconds. As I do, you’re going to replay through the story that you’ve created in your mind. We started off with a monkey. What was the monkey dancing around with? It was an iron. What then attached to the iron? It was a rope. At the other end of the rope, what did you see? It was a kite. The kite then crashed into a house. What was the house covered in? It was covered in paper. Something walked on the paper. What was it? It was a shoe. It was walking on there.
Something crawled inside of the shoe. What was it? It was a worm. The worm jumped into the envelope. What wrote on the envelope? It was a pencil. The pencil jumped into the river. The river was crashing into the rock. The rock flew into the tree. The tree was growing cheese. What came out? It was a dollar. It should be easy to recall the entire random list of words by simply playing through the story in your mind and each major object that you encounter in the story will give you the next word. Give it a try, Penny, take your time, do your best, and people reading the interview can follow along. See how they do.
We had a monkey, the monkey had an iron, the iron was attached to a rope, the rope is attached to a kite, the kite hit the house, the house was wrapped in paper, and the paper had shoes. There was a worm, envelope, pencil, river, rock, a tree, cheese and a dollar.
You are 100% correct.
You got me to do that and I’m impressed. Trust me, people, when he first read that list, I couldn’t even remember the first one. I thought the first one was a rope in the beginning when you are going through the list.
You are well done there. It’s under pressure too. I sprung that on you and you didn’t know that we were going to end up doing that. I’m sure that people following along with the interview got most if not all of those correct. I want to make it clear to people that we’re almost out of time with the interview. It’s a short interview that’s why I did random words with The Story Method. This can be applied to anything at all even complex types of information. Harvard hired me to give seminars for their graduate students. If people visit my website, they’ll see a testimonial from the Harvard Graduate Council. It’s about learning how to take it a little bit further those images and then you turn them into mental note cards or mental cue cards.
If you’re going to give a talk for instance about healthcare in the US, you might start out with the stethoscope that the doctor would use to check your heartbeat. Stethoscope reminds you of the broad topic of healthcare. The first thing you’re going to cover in your speech or presentation is the high-cost of healthcare in the US. Maybe shooting out of the stethoscope is a bunch of $100 bills. Next, you want to cover that in order to get certain things covered. Sometimes we have to find a way to navigate through or cut through red tape. Maybe wrapping itself around $100 bills is all of this red tape. That should give you an idea of how you could minimize notes or how those images could represent steps, processes and procedures. Take a few minutes and down the line, you will save so much time.
Let’s talk about practical application. You talked about if you were presenting, you could put it into a story. All these things are coming to my mind when you talk about a process. Companies could be enlisting this into their training to help people remember the safety procedures and walk through them. Sometimes people don’t follow the checklist that they’re supposed to follow so that they can be trained in a way where at least mentally, they have these things in their head that they have to follow. Is that something that you see that this is incorporated into company training and things like that?
That’s one of my areas of focus, corporate training. This is huge for company training. You’re going to make your employees more productive. If a company is investing in training your employees and sending them to other trainings, they’re going to retain much more of that information if they go through memory skills training first. It’s huge in terms of getting employees to remember key information. It takes a little bit of time to develop the skills but once you’ve developed the skills down the line, you’re going to save so much time and be more productive.
We talked about how you can use it for yourself and you talked about networking and some other applications. There’s corporate use for this in terms of the training. Something that comes to my mind also is for leaders. One of the things I do when I’m working with people and I’m looking to bring a point across is I like to use visuals because people will remember it. I’ll hand everybody a Rubik’s cube and then I’ll tell a whole story and a series of points that I want them to remember around the Rubik’s cube. When I go in and I do a presentation or something around leadership, I find that even a year later, people have the Rubik’s cube with them. They remember a couple of pieces because it was attached to a visual.
I love that you’re doing that. Visuals are powerful. This is a good leadership training as well to be a more effective presenter. Sometimes CEOs hire me because they want to know the names of their employees and things about them because it helps them to show that they appreciate those employees and their work. It helps to develop better business relationships.
At first thought, people don’t appreciate how we can use these memory skills to our advantage to be more productive. Before we close out, I have a couple of quick questions for you that I ask almost all of my guests. Tell me what’s your definition of productivity and why?
My definition of productivity is spending time on things that will, in some way, further your career, business, professional and/or personal development. Doing that is the most efficient way in which you are saving time. It will end up saving you time. My definition is in line with what I described for the benefits of memory skills is that something might take your time at first, but in the end, if it saves you time, I feel that time was productive that you spend on doing it.
It goes without saying what your topic is, but what’s your shortcut? Everybody has got something that their go-to shortcut to save them time, money, effort and whatever.
My shortcut is the same that I would recommend for people that attend my presentations and people that I train and that is to figure out what it is that you’re looking up over and over again. Spend even an hour or less if you’ve developed these skills committing that to memory and that’s going to be a huge shortcut for you. One quick example that people can relate to in everyday life is that I travel a lot to give presentations around the world, and I always laugh when we have to out the landing cards when you’re entering a new country. I see people looking through their bags, trying to find their passport and I fill it out in 30 seconds because it’s all committed to memory. Sometimes they want the confirmation number and you see people trying to find it on their phone or maybe their phone’s dead and they’re like, “I don’t know where,” but I right away give it from memory. It’s my shortcut. People can relate to that.
If your phone and your computer were erased and you had to re-install everything, what are the top two apps that you would be installing that support you?
The mail app is the one that I use all the time. That’s my important app. I saw this movie and some people saw it probably, The Social Dilemma. That’s a little bit too distracted and addicted to social media like Facebook or something like that. Email is important to my business and everyone’s business. If it had to be more of a social media type one, LinkedIn is good for business.
Do you have one that you use that helps you be more efficient at email? There are some cool tools out there like Grammarly so that you have accurate grammar. Are there any of those types of apps that you might add that improve your work?
This is from a productivity perspective. I use Boomerang for Gmail that allows you to schedule the emails. As a one-man business, sometimes I’m wanting to write an email or I get an idea at 2:00 or 3:00 AM or something, but it doesn’t seem anyone would see the email, then I can schedule it to go out at 8:00 or 9:00 AM. That’s a useful one, an email scheduling app.
I want to highlight and mention something about email scheduling. Bringing that up is important, not only does it get it off your shoulder that you don’t have to worry about it anymore. You know that it’s scheduled so you don’t have to put it on a to-do list and remember to do it. I know that you’re a memory guy, but it also takes up the energy to have to remember a lot of different things. Let’s make things easier for ourselves. It also doesn’t create an urgency in someone else at a time when it’s not urgent. That’s an important thing. We have a challenge where everything is urgent these days.
That’s why we’re constantly distracted like, “Today’s Cyber Monday,” so we’ve got to run out and buy something even though we might not need anything, but it’s 30% off. It creates that level of urgency. When you schedule those emails to go out at a reasonable time, it’s not interrupting somebody or making them feel that there’s an urgency that they have to respond to. It’s respectful to others as well as a tool for yourself. Thank you for sharing that and these great tips. I’m impressed and I’m going to be practicing. Tell people where can they contact you and get more information about you.
If people would like to go deeper with this memory skills development, my main training website is MemorySchool.net. I would visualize a giant fishing net to remember that it’s a dot net. I set up a coupon code, Penny, in honor of being on your show. I set it up for 25 uses. You have to indicate how many times it can be used. The first 25 people to use code, Penny, will be able to start without any enrollment fee. Check it out if you’re interested.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you all for being here. You know that you’re always going to get something good here. Continue to keep coming back. Make sure you subscribe. We’re also available on YouTube. You can subscribe to the YouTube channel as well as wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s iTunes, Spotify or a lot of those Stitcher. Your challenge this week is to put that into practice. Memorizing people’s names is a great example. If you’re in a team or a wider team, what are some things that you can do to put this memory to use? How can you improve your presentation skills and those types of things? Look for practical uses of where you can put that into practice. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Chester Santos
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