So you’ve been on a fine trip. Perhaps you’ve climbed mountains, seen amazing things in great museums, walked through the desert in bloom, watched whales rise, or relaxed on the beach. What makes you remember those good times?
I’m not talking about neurons and synapsis firing and re-firing until the pathway through the brain becomes deep and crystal clear like a worn path through deep snow… well, yes I am. We could talk for hours about the web of networks connecting one thing to another, connecting memory to memory, and delve deeply into cognitive development theory. We need to know about cognitive development and pathways in the brain, and connecting one thing to another to make meaning up there, but I’m more superficial.
Freeman Tilden said that you must relate to the personality or experience of the visitor or your interpretation will be sterile. That’s pretty clear. Connecting to the personality or experience of the visitor is connecting with what’s already in the brain; something the person already knows…and likes. When something you say, or that you lead your audience to do, connects with something they already like, then you have a pretty good chance of them liking what you’re doing, and they are more likely to remember it.
In contrast, something so different from the ordinary that evokes a jump…a scream…a ”Wow!” will also likely be remembered. Memorable memory, that deep path connecting neurons in the brain, can be enhanced in a several ways. Some of those we can initiate.
For example, when we stand in awe at the edge of magnificence, perhaps that mountaintop, or a spectacular sunset on the beach, or the desert in bloom, we are likely to remember it. Some folks say that the goal of interpretation is to get people to stand in awe and say, “Wow!” This includes “seeing” or realizing something in a way you’ve never thought of before, like the need for three types of plows to break the soil before you can put corn seed in the ground. “Ah-ha” moments are likely to be remembered.
Or, déjà vu all over again! When you repeat your message a second or third time it’s more likely to be remembered. Repetition causes those neurons to fire across those brain pathways again and again, and the message or experience is cut deeper into the brain, and remembered. Of course, you don’t want to say the same thing over and over, but you do want to have a singular main message, or overarching theme, that is stated at the beginning and the end, and maybe in the middle. You want subthemes that clearly relate to the theme. You want those main messages repeated in exhibits, video, and brochures, and maybe even in big letters on the wall. You want to create sequences of programs that have different activities but all relate to that main message. All these are ways to have variety, to give visitors choices, to appeal to a variety of ages, while reinforcing your most important messages. Repetition helps people remember.
Photos help people remember. We love photos and most of us have a camera with us all the time…our phone! In the old days we made photo albums with pictures taken with our Brownie Instamatic or Polaroid. Months later we would flip through the pages of pictures remembering our summer vacation. Today we instantly share our photos to hundreds of friends, uploading them to social media and tagging the people in our photos. In doing this we are repeating our best experiences. We confirm they are one of the best because we took a picture and shared it. Each time we take a picture, tag a picture, or share picture we deepen the memory pathways in our brain.
Are you a memory-maker? Do you connect with what your visitor knows and likes? Do you pull them against the grain? Do they say “WOW!”? Do you use repetition in your interpretation? Are you encouraging phone photography and sharing photos instantly from your site…even if it’s a selfie at your entrance sign? It all counts when you’re making memories.