Dr. Carmen Simon: Impossible to Ignore - Capturing Attention

In this conversation, Dr. Carmen Simon explores how to make your school communication and messages more memorable. You will learn how to help your community act on what they have heard from you.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: May 31, 2023


School leaders are communicating all the time. In fact, you’ve probably felt like the more messages you send and the more actions you ask your school community to take, the easier it is for something to be lost. In this conversation, Dr. Carmen Simon explores how to make your school communication and messages more memorable. You'll learn how to help your community to act on what they’ve heard from you. Join a practical conversation on becoming impossible to ignore by capturing attention.


Have you ever noticed a gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do after you talk to them? How do you know if you’re sharing stories people will remember and act on? Are all stories memorable and actionable?

As a superintendent, principal, or communications director you want to be both memorable and credible. To become true leaders and influence others’ actions, you must ask: What makes a story memorable? And what is the optimal amount of narrative to use when you speak about technical and complex content?

Dr. Carmen Simon, Ph.D., is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, cognitive neuroscientist, and renowned keynote speaker for sales and marketing audiences. Carmen offers a groundbreaking approach to creating memorable messages that are easy to process, hard to forget, and impossible to ignore―using the latest in brain science. Dr. Simon is the author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.


Intro Quote: Dr. Carmen Simon (Guest): The question is, is it at least the percentage that you wanted them to take away? Because otherwise what happens is you intend for people to remember something. But you're not very deliberate around that.

So then if you're talking to a hundred people, let's just say a thousand people, or maybe even just 10, you'll notice that one person took something away from your message Another person took something else away, another person took something else away. And as we're talking about this in public schools and now you're talking about the teachers and administrators and the communities being the audiences of those messages. And the decision makers know that decision making is hardly ever an individual process.

It's usually a social process. Decisions are social decisions in these contexts that we're talking about. And in order for a group to make a decision, it's a lot more beneficial when that group walks away with a unified memory versus a random memory.

Tyler Vawser (Host): Welcome back to SchoolCEO Conversations. Thank you for being here and for listening.

This podcast is an extension of SchoolCEO magazine, which is a perspectives and research magazine for school superintendents and other K-12 leaders. If you're not receiving the print edition, you can read past issues digitally at schoolceo.com. Just click on all editions on the website. The goal of this podcast is to level the playing field for superintendents and other school leaders.

If you are someone that is responsible for leading or taking control of how your community thinks and feels about your schools and district, this is the show for you. I'm your host, Tyler Vawser, and to that end, I sit down with leaders in education and in business to discuss how to better market your schools.

Today's guest is from the world of neuroscience and business. When I'm looking for podcast guests, I'm often thinking about who's someone that has practical, actionable advice that is also rooted in research and, when possible, science. In other words, it's more than their opinion. It's something that can give you the confidence that you need to put it into action.

And that's why I'm excited to share today's episode with you, Dr. Carmen Simon. Dr. Simon is a cognitive neuroscientist. She has spent the past decade researching what makes content memorable and actionable. Dr. Simon is the Chief Science Officer at B2B Decision Labs and Corporate Visions, and is a renowned keynote speaker for sales and marketing audiences.

She's also the author of the book, Impossible to Ignore, Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions. Now, whether she's speaking to corporate audiences or to school leaders like today, her work can help you apply science-based guidelines to influence your own audience's memory with precision. This practical episode can help you craft your messages using evidence-based guidelines that are easy to process, hard to forget, and impossible to ignore.

So if you feel like you're communicating all the time, you're always sharing messages, but you're not getting through to your audience, this episode can help. In this conversation, we ask and answer questions like, are all stories memorable and actionable? How do you know if you're sharing stories people will remember and act on?

Or if you've ever noticed a gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do. These are the kinds of questions we explore. Let's join the conversation.

Tyler Vawser (Host): One of the things we found is that school leaders are communicating all the time, whether they’re a superintendent or a communications director, they literally are sending messages every single day. Sometimes those are as simple as, you know, make sure you remember to bring your kids' lunch for the field trip to something like there's inclement weather and school is closed to something much more meaningful, like we have an upcoming bond or millage and we really need your support. We need the community to turn out in order to literally fund our schools. And so there's a very wide range of what we mean by communication.

And I think a lot of times school leaders have focused so much on the day-to-day messages that the larger brand message—who they are, what they stand for, what they're doing for the community is sometimes put to the side just because of kind of day-to-day rhythm and functionality.

Dr. Carmen Simon (Guest): Ooh, I see. So here's the good news. And the good news can stem from what people are doing right now. Naturally. And you mentioned the phrase, there's a wider range of message types from the angle of how the brain works.

This is a good thing because if you're talking about influencing the brain in some way, It's not a good strategy to always go with something that is intense all the time. And I'll tell you why. That is, we can express this from a principle that is called priming the brain to be ready to receive a message.

One of the reasons why some messages are not as influential as we would like them to be is because the brain is not ready to pay attention. Attention is critical because it influences memory. And memory is critical because it influences decisions. Audiences never make decisions based on what they forget.

They make decisions based on what they remember. And one of the reasons we have flawed memories is because we don't pay attention to begin with. So, what puts the brain in a ready state, in a state of attention? We did a neuroscience study about a year and a half ago, and the reason I did it is because I got tired of people saying that pictures are always more powerful than text, and videos are always more powerful than images.

So now you have almost like a continuum. So the marketers that you're talking about, what inventory do they have? They have texts that they can send out. Whether at a small scale or a grand scale, they have images they can send out and perhaps it might create some videos that's usually part of your inventory, would you agree?

Tyler Vawser (Host): Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Carmen Simon (Guest): So we can't really make the statement that one stimulus is stronger than another stimulus. What the entire communication sequence would depend on and how influential you are. Is how you establish a rhythm between these types. So in our study, we were looking at text versus video, and the study had three phases.

In phase one, I was having people look at an inbox that had emails. You're mentioning that the marketers in your population send out emails almost every day. So imagine that you are now faced with an inbox. It has text-based email, text-based email, text-based email. Suddenly there's a video in one of them, and then there are more emails that are simply text-based.

We wanted to see what happens in the brain when you're going text, text, text, video, then more text. So that was phase one. In phase two, we really wanted to compare apples to apples. Like if you take the same concept and you write it out, so you only have words. And then you take the same concept and create a video around it to see if video really is that much more powerful than text.

And in phase three, we wanted to see how the brain, in our case, is the business brain. But in your case it is not that different because everybody must have a business brain in order to make some good decisions. We wanted to see how the business brain reacts to business-like text and business-like videos, but also some other popular text from a novel, for instance, or some popular videos from pop culture.

Like, are you familiar with the show? Uh, Schitt's Creek?

Tyler Vawser: Yes.

Dr. Carmen Simon: If you're familiar with that show, and maybe our listeners are familiar with that show too, you may remember that Moira is one of the prominent characters on that show. She's unmistakable and at some point in the show she does an ad for the town.

In fact, she's kinda embarrassed of the town's name, so she tries to avoid saying it, but she has to create a commercial, in a sense, a marketing material for the town. So we even wanted to know what the business brain is like on an ad for Schitt's Creek. So then compare it with more business-like videos.

So what we found is this, when the brain is looking at an inbox and it sees text-based emails, text-based emails, initially it is in a negative state of mind, so an inbox already bumps us out for reasons that probably you and I can speculate on the moment that the video comes on. It's not like suddenly you're just ecstatic to see that.

But it comes out of this nervousness, this anxiety that we have in the face of an inbox. Then by the time you're reading those other three text messages in the email, now you're in a more relaxed and happier state. So in other words, you are using one stimulus to prime how the brain reacts to this next stimulus.

Priming simply means that you're showing the brain a stimulus. You're influencing how the next stimulus is being processed. So the good news for all of our listeners is that they don't have to try so hard with every single stimulus that they produce. Look at the cadence through which you're sending out stimulation, knowing that at some point you might have to sacrifice a few in order for the next ones to be processed appropriately.

I'll turn it over to you in case you have some reactions.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really interesting. I'm trying to think about just day to day, there's little messages that you're sending out and then once in a while there's a big announcement or something like that, but it seems like you're talking about something deeper and more intentional than that.

Like almost, you know, I think about like a movie coming out. You kind of get a little bit of a trailer and then a longer trailer, and then you know, the very long trailer and the next day the movie comes out. Is that what you're meaning?

Dr. Carmen Simon: Interpreted in different ways what you just said. You can have a cadence around the same communication type, so if you want to abide by how movies are released, you're absolutely correct in that you're building some anticipation.

We can talk about this notion of anticipation as well, but if you're talking about just other messages in general and how you're combining them, you're mentioning that some have a smaller scale in the sense of it's just something mundane. Like don't forget your lunch versus something is a much larger scale, such please vote so this bond goes through.

So in order for people to pay attention to that one that's really large, have some other cadences right before that. So by the time you get to the really big things, people are really in an attentive state versus a feeling of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ So consider priming the brain so that they're ready to pay attention regardless of the message.

Tyler Vawser: Interesting. The most recent issue of SchoolCEO magazine is all about influence. So what it means to have it, how to use it effectively, how you can use it within your district for a school leader to increase motivation with teachers and staff. And then of course, what we're talking about here, how do you, how do you communicate more effectively?

And so, uh, superintendents and communication directors both have that in their position and the responsibility to use their influence. Yeah. And so as we're gonna talk about today, we want to really dive into how you make your influence more effective, not only with students and families, but with the staff, the teachers, and the larger community.

And so Carmen, I'd love for you to just start by talking about what are some of the key principles that you've learned, both through your experience and your research about how do you create a message that is memorable and influential?

Dr. Carmen Simon: That is a broad question because there's so many pathways we can take and, already we addressed one, which is this notion of priming, which implies that you constantly look for patterns around how you are communicating.

So if you're seeing that, you tend to reach for the similar patterns. So maybe text-based emails are your medium and you're going there again and again and again at some point when you deviate from the pattern. So now there is a video or there is an image, or there is a live discussion. Now suddenly the brain is ready to pay attention because you are taking advice.

The element of surprise is an important one because biologically speaking, surprise is always bad for the brain. And the reason for that is because the brain is an outstanding analyst. It has an outstanding prediction mechanism. We always want to predict the next moment so that we know to be prepared for the next moment.

The best survival mechanism for the brain is to be alive when the future comes. So that's why we have a future-oriented mindset and we try to predict the next moment. Surprise is biologically bad because what is a surprise but a failure to predict what happens next. The brain still accepts surprises, however, because the difference between what the brain expected and what happened in real life is how the brain learns.

So that's why when you're looking for patterns and then you develop unintentional—I like the word that you used earlier—an intentional strategy as to how to break away from the pattern. Now you can secure the brain's attention. So if you have those grand messages that you're saying, and those grand messages have been created as a video, Then people have seen videos all the time.

Then of course that one is not going to be any more special because now the human brain habituates very quickly to a stimulus that doesn't change. So if we build off of that technique that we just already talked about in terms of priming, the practical way to apply that is to look for pockets of similarity.

And you still need similarity. So don't feel like every single moment should be different pockets of similarity, and then suddenly have the courage to derail, have the courage to deviate.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really interesting. I think it's Morgan Housel in his book, The Psychology of Money that says history is a collection of surprises, right?

We look back on history as these moments that no one expected this thing or that thing to happen. I think it pairs nicely with what you're talking about.

Dr. Carmen Simon I like that quote, and you're right, because if we talk about memory and what influences memories, often we have these moments of distinctiveness. This collection of surprises is so beautifully summarized.

And in order to have those though, you have to have some comfort with sameness. And sometimes I think that communicators put so much pressure on themselves thinking, well, I did this last time, so therefore maybe this time I should try something different. Whereas how could the brain detect that something is distinct unless it first noticed there is a pattern and there is some sameness.

Tyler Vawser: So your advice to someone that's in a communications role or a leader is to kind of save those new mediums or those ways of differentiating a message in the actual medium for those big announcements, because that is when people need to pay attention and just by deviating from the pattern. They're more likely to listen even before they get to the content itself.

Dr. Carmen Simon: Yes, associate those with some deviation in the pattern and then capitalize on the increased attention that you have even afterward, because that state of attentiveness will linger, is not going to be all so short lived. That's why even in our study that I was mentioning, the text that otherwise would have been so easily ignored previously right after a video, is processed more intensely.

Tyler Vawser: That's really interesting. In preparation for this recording, one of the things I really liked about your work, and I'm excited to ask you about, is you're not just talking about how to get someone's attention, but to get their intention and get them to act later. And I would love for you just to dig into that for the listeners.

This is, I think, something that really stands out about your work is that a lot of times people intend to do something, but they often, probably too often, don't act on that. Someone says they'll do something, but they don't. And I think this is a real problem. If you're leading, you can get someone to say yes to some future action, but getting them to actually take the action is a different story.

Dr. Carmen Simon: So true. And there are some components involved in this and some practical guidelines that we can share with our listeners. First, let's establish some context around memories because we mentioned earlier that memories influence decisions. So one of the reasons we don't decide is because we don't remember to decide.

But then we also must clarify these two concepts that I think our listeners would find intriguing, which is when it comes to memory, there are many ways in which we can look at memory, but let's look at it in these two ways, which are retrospective memory, meaning remembering the past, you're talking about the history being a, a collection of surprises.

So you go back into the history, into your own autobiographical memory or somebody else's history and you start recollecting things. Some of them with more or less precision, usually with less precision. But then there is a different kind of memory, which is prospective memory, meaning remembering the future.

And this one is more intriguing for a memory type for us to focus on because this is where business happens. If you're talking about marketing materials, communication materials, those are typically created so that the brain acts on them in the future. So how do we get people to remember the future?

That's the, that's the bigger question. And um, by the way, the memory troubles that most of us report after the age of 25 rely not on our fault in remembering the past, most of the memory flaws that we have are around getting an intention we set for ourselves. So you might say, I'm going to leave the office and I'm going to send that one email or I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna stop by and pick up the dry cleaning. You just get home and you're thinking, ah, totally forgot to do that.

Tyler Vawser: This makes me feel much better about my life. I thought I was the only one.

Carmen Simon: No, you're definitely not alone. In fact, the statistics that I'm revealing in the literature of prospective memory remind us that about 60% of our memory mishaps are fluctuating around forgetting the future.

So if we're thinking about, okay, so how, what are some techniques for us to, uh, to overcome this issue? One, such technique comes from this notion of queuing the brain that something must happen. Sure. We are all humans. We forget the brain is different after the age of 25 in terms of learning and memory.

And that's why I liked how you're talking about earlier in terms of building anticipation or some components that revolve around the same message because just mentioning to an audience, regardless of how smart they are, one message once is not going to be sufficient for them to act in the future.

And there is no secret. Repetition is the mother of memory. So the more repetition that you can afford in your communication materials around the same theme, the stronger the memory for when the future does happen. And, um, if our listeners like to dig out on a few concepts, I assume they do, I want to offer this notion of fractals.

Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves at any level of magnification. So if you're looking at a tree, next time you're out, look at a tree, and then you'll see that the tree, the father tree, let's call it that, and the branches have one set of properties. But then even you look at a sub branch that will retain the properties of the same tree, but at a smaller level of magnification.

If on that branch you look at an even smaller branch, yet even that branch will retain the properties of the entire tree or. If you're at the grocery store, look at the head of a cauliflower. You'll see that you see the entire head of cauliflower that has a set of properties, and then you'll see these baby little heads of cauliflower that are part of the hole that retain the same level of properties, but it's cauliflower all the way down.

And my practical advice for all of our listeners who are creating messages is to pick up your theme, pick a set of properties, a set of equations, so to speak, that you can then repeat on any level of magnification. So perhaps you have an email, perhaps you have a larger campaign. Perhaps you have a larger PDF file perhaps than you have a larger presentation perhaps.

Then you have a three day course around it. However much or, or little these things expand, they still retain the same level of properties or equations. This way, you capitalize on repetition, but you also don't make that repetition boring, because now you can add some levels of intrigue. You can add some elaborative details around that same main theme, so you're giving people palatable repetition, not just beating up the same message again and again.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really interesting. Something I've seen in leaders is that very often they're tired of giving the same message over and over again. And about the time they're ready to give up is when their audience is just about to really tune in. And I think there's, you know, for those listening, as soon as you're like, I'm, you know, blue in the face, I can't talk about this one more time, that is probably do it six more after that, and that's when your message starts to get carried out and replicated the way that you're talking about, which it's moving throughout the rest of the organization.

And you may not have to keep speaking on it forever, but the leaders below you and the leaders below them are starting to repeat that.

Carmen Simon: So true, so true. And here's one way to counteract this notion if I hear myself say this thing one more time, which I'm sure many of us have been in that situation, is to prepare for that moment and to say at the moment of creating that message.

As you're looking at it, as you are saying it to yourself, as you start saying it to other people, even ask that question, am I prepared to repeat this for six months? If I have to do it for a year, if I have to do it every single day for that year, could I hear myself say this message? I remember reading in the paper once the person who played the Phantom of the Opera, which is one of the longest running shows in New York.

That guy had to go through that role and those lines and those notes about 1700 times. Imagine the repetition, right? So a journalist very cleverly asked him, how did you handle this sheer amount of repetition? And I really loved his sweet response. He said, you know, every two weeks we'll get a new Christine.

So as you're thinking about the repetition of the same message, wonder how I can guard against getting bored? And that may settle in for myself for this repetition. Maybe it comes from the way that the message is phrased, and that can be corrected right off the bat. Ask the question to, by the way, would I take this message on a date?

Would I take this message on a second date? Would I be willing to stay with this message for a very long amount of time? Or if it's a message that was given to you and you have no control, then see if there are some other factors like what would be the equivalent of your new Christine that can still bring some excitement back around the message that kept somebody else coming back for more

Tyler Vawser: But first, I want to tell you about the next SchoolCEO conference coming up this Fall. With keynote speakers back to back and plenary sessions, our conferences are all about helping you improve and grow the brand and culture of your schools. Join authors and researchers like Jonah Berger, Neil Doshi and Kim Lear on September 25th and 26th.

You can visit schoolceo.com to get early bird tickets and to learn more. Now back to the conversation. So going back to what we were talking about around intention, right? That future memory, I need to do this thing in the future, how does someone influence another person to not just have that intention, but to begin to act on that intention?

Carmen Simon: So we are talking about repetition, which will guard against simply forgetting. Now, if we look at acting from an even broader and almost a molecular, biological perspective, then we have to ask an opposite question, which is why is it that people don't act? Sometimes it's like you've given them everything, you've repeated the message, they know exactly what.

They need to, but sometimes they don't care. Or even worse, they don't have the energy for it. So then if we ask the question, what brings some energy to someone so that they act then an answer that all our listeners will understand is related to this molecule that puts our bodies in motion and in action.

And it's a molecule that was misunderstood at first, and that molecule, I'm sure that every single person listening to us has heard about dopamine, that the molecule has been so widely popularized that we're calling it the eon of neurotransmitters, which I don't think it's fair to dopamine.

But the reason why you want to reflect on that, especially if you want to create motivation and action in somebody else, is you have to have this neuroscientific humility around when do we become dopamine deficient? Because the misunderstanding around dopamine is that for so long it was associated with something that you like and you crave.

Like, tell me something that you like and, and you crave. Tyler, what is, what is that for you? What is something?

Tyler Vawser: You're putting me on the spot. Chocolate chip cookies or brownies.

Carmen Simon: So there you go. So we used to believe that you would have to have some dopamine in your brain in order to like brownies.

But what we discovered is that you don't have to have dopamine in your brain to like or crave those chocolate chip cookies. You would have to have enough dopamine in your brain to go get them. Those cookies or brownies don't start materializing themselves out of thin air. At some point you would have to exert some effort into going and getting that.

So with that discovery, we started looking a lot more into the association between dopamine and actually moving toward a cause, moving toward a reward, having enough energy and drive and motivation to go and get it, so to speak. And now that we know that dopamine is a lot more involved in motivation and movement, then we can ask.

And answer the question that you are posing earlier. How do you get somebody to act well? Are there dopamine levels balanced enough where they have enough energy to even ask to even act? So how do we get a good balance of dopamine? Well, that usually resides at the intersection of three components, your physical capacity, your emotional capacity, and your cognitive capacity for cognition.

We already provided a tool, which is to make sure that you repeat the message. Often enough so that people can even remember. Let's talk about the physical aspect for a moment. Are people that you're trying to influence? Well rested, first of all because sometimes we share these messages at inappropriate times when people haven't had enough sleep, when people have been deprived of many things, when people are simply exhausted from making some other decisions.

So constantly wonder like, physiologically speaking, am I reaching them at a solid time?By the way, in terms of time, perception and dopamine, we now know that if you have a more rigid message and something that has to follow a very organized structure, share that more in the morning, which is when the body releases more dopamine versus in the afternoon. Reserve those for messages that are related more to creativity and to dreaming up things and to brainstorming Because now those levels are a little bit lower. They replenish every 24 hours, but it's good to ask. Physiologically speaking, are these audiences even ready for these messages?

Tyler Vawser: That’s an interesting one for schools, right? Because I think a lot of times schools are sending messages when they think the family's around the dinner table. The kids are home and everyone's exhausted, right? Everybody's at the end of the day, bedtime an hour and a half off. And for most parents, we all know what that can feel like with young kids. But in the morning, you're also getting ready for work.

And I think that's a real challenge for schools is that you don't have dedicated time in the same way that an employer has with, you know, their worker. That kind of relationship is quite different between a school and the parents or the school and the community.

I'm glad you raised that question. I think that's worth thinking about is if the audience is ready to receive the message at this time in their daily rhythm?

Dr. Carmen Simon: Exactly. Daily rhythm. That's a very strong word that you just mentioned because we do have these circadian rhythms and dopamine does get released based on some schedules and the moment that you exerted and you need some time to replenish.

So even looking at the cadence of messages to ask the question. “Have I been exhausting my audiences with these kinds of heavier messages? Can I go just a little bit lighter? Can I just simply not say anything for a while? Because some abstinence could be very beneficial. In fact, if you're looking at addiction, which is definitely dopamine-related in many cases, one of the ways is just like there is no secret around it, is just you would have to make some, uh, some ways to create absence around your drug of addiction.

Whether that could be your Netflix addiction, that could be the chocolate chip cookies, and that could be the more serious drug.

Tyler Vawser: I've seen some school principals, they're usually the ones communicating directly to families, especially during the Covid era where most calls, most emails were about a positive case and those types of things where they would start sending voicemails or sending emails that were something just positive, right?

Every thing probably didn't need its own voicemail, but it was a pattern interrupter. It was a message that was unlike the others, and it was one of those moments to say, this is not Covid related. We just wanna tell you about how well the students are doing, or we wanna tell you about this award that this teacher got and it's very short and sweet.

But what was interesting, and I'm saying this as a parent, was it made me more likely to tune into the next message because I didn't know what it was going to be about. There's a pretty good guess what it would be, but at least the previous message told me it's not always the same.

Carmen Simon: I really like what you're saying and to build on what you just said, here's another practical tool that is also dopamine-related.

You're talking about intention and action. Sometimes we are doing so much associating. Some effort that we put in, the actions that we take with the ultimate reward and the ultimate goal that we forget what happens on the journey to even reach that goal in the pursuit for that reward, and these messages, these beautiful messages that you're talking about.

I guarantee that one of the reasons they also worked in addition to disrupting patterns is because they were reinforcing forward movements. You're still on the way to pursue a goal. You'll get there sooner or later, but the more that you start associating some pleasure with the effort itself and the journey itself, not only with the final reward, the more palatable that's going to become and the more actionable that is.

Because now you're symbolizing to the brain that, look, I can still find some pleasure in the struggle, so to speak, in the effort. And because there's still forward movement, the brain is constantly looking for forward movements. It finds that rewarding. And why is that? Because that means we're prepared for the future.

Because remember, the best way to, uh, sustain our survival is to be there when the future comes. But I think you would like this experiment. This was done in multiple instances where you take two rats and you put them in a tube. And you would figure out which rat pushes the other one out because it's good to have more space for yourself.

And what you would notice is this, if you find one rat pushes the other one out, let's call the one that pushed the other one out, the winner and the one that got pushed the loser. And now you give a new opponent to the one that's still in there and has won. You'll find that the one that has won keeps on winning and winning again, and the one that lost keeps on losing and losing again.

So there is a winning circuitry in the brain that rewards forward movement. So the practical guideline we we can all think about is, as you are on the way to a hefty goal, don't just associate pleasure with the final effort, but just associate pleasure with the fact that I'm making forward movement, I'm making some progress, even though that progress may be minute at times.

Tyler Vawser: That's really interesting. I haven't heard of that study before. One of the questions I have for you, Dr. Simon, is about tailoring our message to different audiences, and so taking it into individual preferences and biases. We've talked about parents here today, but you also have the school district, you might have community members that are retired, but they're still within your community.

They're still voting on different measures. They're influential in different kinds of ways. And so when we're thinking about different audiences, how do we account for how we tailor our messages to those different audiences to communicate most effectively and use our influence with them most effectively?

Carmen Simon: It's a strong question because, you know, we go through our day based on some universal guidelines and according to some subjective guidelines, there's a lot of subjectivity in the way that we act or we don't in some instances. This is why when I think about practical tools that all of us can use, I usually reach for those that would apply regardless if you're from China or from California.

And regardless if you are 18 or if you're 84, I'm, um, I'm really intrigued by those universal ones that would bypass something like that. Okay. Yeah, we can talk about that. That being said, though, of course there are some, uh, some, uh, some differences because our brains are a combination of our individual experiences and beliefs and, uh, often we have amazing opinions.

But here's one way in which to, um, to distinguish at least two types of audiences. This is how we do it in business. And I think we can borrow the same principle. For us, we look at the variety for audience brains from these two perspectives. Are they new to your message? Completely new that you have not heard what you have to say or promote before?

Or have they been with you for a while, but now you still want to remind them why they should keep listening to you and they should keep evolving with you from our perspective. And there's enough science to substantiate this. There's a big difference between a new listener versus an existing listener, and why is that a new listener?

What do they want to do? They have a status quo that they want to maintain regardless of their demographics. A brain that's faced with some novelty will initially say, “I want to conserve energy.” Our brains, even though there are such small organs in our bodies, consume a lot of our body's energy. So they have to justify their existence.

And one of the ways that the brain justifies its existence is to conserve energy. So the moment that somebody throws a lot of novelty at you, your initial reaction is like, I don't think so. I'm kind of happy where I'm at right now, so I'm good. So for that new brain with a new message for you, you have to think, what kind of evidence can I bring to defeat the status quo?

Why should this brain change? So be very humbled by that question. Whereas for an existing brain, for you, I'm, I'm saying existing, meaning that they've been with you for a while, they've been listening to you for a while. For those people you want to reinforce exactly the opposite, which is, you should stay with me because these are the benefits.

This is what we've been accomplishing so far. And we can evolve together. It's not like life is not changing at all. Surely there are still some things that are changing. But now we're, we can continue on this thing together. So it's at that junction that I would advocate a 180 degree difference between messages that you're sharing with people.

Tyler Vawser: That's really interesting. So I'm thinking about schools here and I wonder if you can share a business example that makes a similar point. Schools are tricky in the sense that most every American has had an experience with public schools, right? Maybe someone went through the private school system, but even then they're projecting their experience onto schools in general, right?

And so they have this status quo of how they imagine school to be, usually the same today as it was when they went, or they're kind of seeing what they're watching on the news and assuming it's very different. But they have this idea of what it is, and yet for many, they aren't really paying attention to what the school is saying about the experience, their brand, their strengths, their values, their culture, because they're so certain they already know what it is, which is just to educate students.

And then the rest of it is usually gonna be something in the news, which is novel, but often. Negative, a negative novelty. And so they're paying attention to those cues. And I'm curious to know in the business world, what does that sound like or how do businesses take that approach? So take something like Nike, everyone knows who Nike is.

I don't think there's anyone that said, ah, I've never heard of that. What do they do? But how do you stay fresh while also disrupting that status quo and or keeping people with you?

Carmen Simon: If you are talking to somebody and that somebody has not already bought your idea, your product or your service, we would definitely treat that as a new customer.

They might have some beliefs about what the topic is.They might have some very strong opinions about what happens within a specific context, which is great by the way, because you can build into those. But if they haven't already been convinced and influenced, we are talking about influence by what you have to say.

They are definitely a new brain, new customer. If they've already been convinced for a while and now you have to share some new information, then that would be considered for us as an existing customer. So, for us, the picture is, uh, very clear. Now, here's the good news. The good news is that even though somebody may be having some status quo or some bias, which is negative against the product, like we've, we know public schools, we know Nike, we know this, this section very well.

Each time that you bring along a memory and you bring it to consciousness and you talk about it, It's a possibility to reframe it and rephrase it in a way that when the brain puts it back on an imaginary shelf, now it's been rephrased in some way. Now it's been reshaped in a way that's going toward a positive sense.

So our memories are not fixed. Our memories are not a very precise replica of reality. Our memories are constantly a reconstruction of reality. So a good communicator would still go back there. You have to have the courage to go back there, retrieve that memory that may not work in your favor, and now reframe it in a way that the next time that we talk about the same thing.

We're looking at it a little bit more softly. We're looking at it with a different perspective, a different angle, which is why for a new customer, let's call it that, because they haven't bought into our ideas or our projects. At some point, there has to be a pivot moment. At some point, there has to be a moment that you as a communicator reflect on and say, you may have been thinking about this way, but actually it's more beneficial to think about it this other way.

And the moment there's that pivot and that reframing or that trailing of another path, now you can stay there for a little longer

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I think that reframe is really important and I think we, without getting into politics too much, I think there's been a big reframing of public education by certain groups and now other groups are trying to reframe that reframe because I think in my view, that is an inaccurate reframe.

And so there's a lot of reframing going on both sides, and not just both sides, but all the sides. And so I think that's a really interesting observation.

Dr. Carmen Simon: Well I like what you're saying because we have to be humbled by the reframing of all these frames. And at some point it has to feel authentic enough, ethical enough, and rewarding enough where people are willing to go along with you.

Remember, you're still asking from somebody's brain to give you energy, which often is in very limited resources. So make sure that as you're thinking, let's summarize for a bit as you're thinking of an essential message that you repeat, remember the, it's the cauliflower all the way down. You're now creating that message in different media types so that not everything is also intense or not. Everything is also weak at times, step back and say, is this a message that I would be willing to be influenced by myself?

Is this something that, then as I'm influenced by it, I can live with that for a year or two, maybe a lifetime. And when the answer feels, uh, good, and you're at peace, then go out and share it with the world.

Tyler Vawser: I love that you mentioned authenticity, and I think what you just described is authenticity. A brand is only as good as its leader believes in it, as the community believes in it and as the staff or the teachers in this case believe in it.

Dr. Carmen Simon: Like I remember, we are here in Silicon Valley and we quite often hear of the newest inventions, especially in technology. I remember hearing from these two engineers from India.

They didn't speak English very well, but they were in front of this whiteboard and they were outlining some web architecture of a product that they were recommending. These two people had so much energy around what they were proclaiming. I could have listened to them all day. It just felt like it was coming from a right place, an ethical place, a good place.

And as you're thinking about your own messages and you hear yourself talk about those, ask about that chemistry and the enduring energy that you could have to live with those messages for a while.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. That's wonderful. Well, in closing, I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about your book, Impossible to Ignore so our audience, if they want to learn more about Dr. Carmen Simon, they can go read your book and explore that. Do you mind talking a little bit about why you wrote it and what you're hoping your readers get out of it?

Dr. Carmen Simon: I wrote impossible to ignore because I became very neuroscientifically humbled by how quickly people forget messages.

On average, we forget the business content that we hear after 48 hours, so in proportion of about 90%, sometimes even more. From the neuroscience research that I do, I notice that sometimes we forget even more than 90% after two days. We're lucky to put 1% of the main essence of that message in somebody's brain.

And the reason this is important to tackle is because people will make decisions on that small percentage that they take away. And the question is,what is the least percentage that you wanted them to take away? Because otherwise, what happens is you intend for people to remember something. But you're not very deliberate around that.

So then if you're talking to a hundred people, let's just say a thousand people. Or maybe even just 10, you'll notice that one person took something away from your message. Another person took something else away, another person took something else away. And as we're talking about this in public schools, and as you're talking about the teachers and the administrators and the communities being the audiences of those messages and the decision makers, know that decision making is hardly ever an individual process.

It's usually a social process. Decisions are social decisions in these contexts that we're talking about, and in order for a group to make a decision, it's a lot more beneficial when that group walks away with a unified memory versus a random memory. So I wrote Impossible to Ignore, to ask and answer the question, how do you get to a unified memory so not just one person, but the groups make a decision in your favor.

Tyler Vawser: Very interesting. One more question, if I can, is there's been a lot of writing and books about, you know, from Atomic Habits, to the Power of Habit, but a lot of times it deals with individuals. But what you were just describing was interesting because you're talking about habit, memory, and action for a larger group, right, whether that's an organization or a community.

And I'm curious if you can just talk about, uh, what we've, many of us have learned on an individual basis, right, like the cue and the reward and taking action. How does that apply to a group of people?

Carmen Simon: I always think that when you're approaching a group of people, they may have developed some habits together.

So now it's not just individual habits that you are attacking. You are now talking about social habits. Every organization has them. Some would call it culture, for example, but they tend to engage in similar activities. And why is that? Because even at an organizational level, what are you looking to do?

You're looking to conserve energy and the more you repeat some standard procedures, that's why organizations have them, then the more efficient or effective you become. So that's why I mentioned that practical guideline earlier to say, if you're tackling brains and groups of brains that have not heard or been convinced by you before, then it's good to say what is status quo, but a collection of habits that they already have.

So take those into account. You can't dismiss them because they exist and people have spent a lot of energy even building those and see if you can extract from them the goodness that can help you in the future messages because. Many habits still have positive remarks. Even as you're eating those chocolate chip chip cookies, there's that one moment where you're feeling good.

As long as everything is in moderation, there's something that would be rewarding around that habit. But then see if you can steer it away from something that doesn't serve you well, because at some point, too many chocolate cookie chip cookies will be detrimental, and then focus the attention there.

Your decisions are going to go where the attention is. Remember how attention influences memories and memories influence decisions. So a practical question for all the listeners to ask is, where do I want to bring the attention to when it comes to convincing a group? And the more that you focus the attention on what serves everybody well, then you are increasing the likelihood of decisions to happen.

What's science, but the increased likelihood that something will happen?

Tyler Vawser: I love it. Wonderful. Dr. Carmen Simon, thank you so much for joining SchoolCEO Conversations. Thank you

Carmen Simon: Thank you everyone for listening.

Tyler Vawser: SchoolCEO Magazine publishes original research interviews and more in our quarterly magazine. That's read by more than 15,000 school leaders.

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You can find Dr. Simon on Twitter at @areyoumemorable and read her book on Amazon or at Bookshop.org