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  • Victoria Matey

Making Memories That Last

Three facts about memory every event professional should remember


Memorability is one of the key criteria for a successful experience. However, memory, a fundamental brain function, frequently remains misunderstood or overlooked by event professionals. This oversight can result in the adoption of less effective strategies than initially hoped for. So, if you're determined to craft event experiences that linger in attendees' minds, here are three memory-related facts, backed by research, that anyone working in events should bear in mind

Fact #1: Memory is boosted by sensory cues.

Most of us have experienced it: a particular smell or a familiar tune triggers vivid memories, taking us back in time and letting us relive past events and emotions, even if just for a moment. Neuroscientists have understood this connection for a long time - a strong link exists between our primary sensory areas and the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory processing. However, not all senses are equally connected. Researchers have found that the olfactory parts of the brain have the strongest ties to memory. This means that scents can evoke the most potent memories, followed by other sensory cues.

❖ Why does this matter?

Understanding the link between different senses and memory can help event organizers and their partners implement out-of-the-box solutions to make experiences more memorable. Here are a few ideas:

▪ Make the most of scents - and be mindful of them at the same time. How does the venue/booth smell - is it pleasant or not? Is the scent strong, and do you have attendees with scent sensitivities or allergies? Is the scent right for the emotion(s) you want to evoke? Is there a perfume partner for your events?

▪ Create a unique sound or "sonic logo" for your event. Whenever your audience hears it, it will automatically trigger memories of your event. Whether it's a catchy tune or a distinctive sound (think of the Netflix intro), scientists agree that this is a fascinating way to retrieve memories.

▪ Organizing a virtual event? Consider adding a touch touchpoint to enhance memorability! When everything else is virtual, having something physical, like swag that your audience can use, will help them remember the event long after it's over.

▪ Leverage visual cues, such as distinctive signage, branding, and designated photo areas or booths with event-specific props throughout your event. By creating opportunities to capture memorable moments and sharing them after the event, you’ll trigger vivid memories of the event, strengthening their connection to the experience.

Fact #2: Memory is influenced by cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases are like the brain's hidden shortcuts, often operating beneath our conscious awareness. Memory, too, falls prey to various biases. Consider the recency effect: it's usually the most recent information we encounter that we remember best. Research confirms it; it's been shown, for instance, that viewers tend to recall ads shown at the end of a TV commercial break more readily than those shown earlier. Or, think of your own grocery list - it's usually the last items that come to mind when asked to recite it without looking!

❖ Why does this matter?

Recency bias has implications for marketing in general and for several aspects of experience design. Consider content and learning outcomes as an example. An event's packed agenda and abundance of information to learn at every corner strains each participant's memory. By utilizing the recency effect, you can ensure your audience is satisfied with their learning experience and will remember the content more effectively. To accomplish that, place and/or repeat important information towards the end of a learning activity. For instance, you could ask each speaker to end their talk with a recap, or create a detailed summary of the learning and send it to participants. This will ensure that it sticks better in their minds.

Another memory-related bias is rosy retrospection, a psychological phenomenon that makes us remember past experiences more positively than they may have actually been. Essentially, we tend to recall the positive aspects while conveniently forgetting any negatives.

❖ Why does this matter?

In the realm of events, rosy retrospection matters because it can skew participants' memories, causing them to predominantly recall the positive aspects of the event. While this might initially seem favorable, as an event organizer, your aim is to collect as accurate feedback as possible to understand where improvements are needed from the audience's perspective. The solution is straightforward: to counteract the rosy retrospection bias, you can employ two strategies. First, rather than seeking feedback just after an event, do so during the event. This will give you better chances to capture participants' genuine reactions and thoughts. Second, conduct observations. An observation-based approach allows for a more objective evaluation and helps identify areas for growth.

As you follow these strategies, you will be able to gain valuable insights into the impact of your event while remaining true to your goal of creating a memorable event.

Fact #3: Memory is inherently unreliable.

We often imagine memory to be like a precise video recorder, capturing every moment and detail for later playback. We believe that when we need to remember something, we simply access the correct "file" and replay it as it happened. In reality, it's quite the opposite. Human memory isn't a meticulously organized archive of past moments; rather, it acts more like a kaleidoscope. Each time you remember something, it's like turning a kaleidoscope, revealing a different combination of glittering pieces of glass.

What's more, research confirms that we are susceptible to forming "false" memories. When gaps exist in our recollection, the human brain fills in the missing pieces based on visual cues, misleading information, similar past experiences, predictions, and more. For example, in one study, researchers gathered information about childhood events from college students' parents and then discussed these events with the students, including one experimenter-created (false) event. Astonishingly, students developed detailed memories of the false event as a result.

In another study, people viewed ads that suggested they had shaken hands with either Mickey Mouse or a fabricated character. Remarkably, both sets of ads increased participants' confidence in having met these characters. However, while the encounter with Mickey Mouse could be genuine, the interaction with the imaginary character was entirely fabricated solely for the study's purposes. It demonstrated that ads can create false memories in people's minds, especially when they reference personal experiences.

❖ Why does this matter?

When you overly rely on your participants' memory, you risk them forgetting the experience's important moments and information you carefully crafted for them. This will result in your event not being as memorable or satisfying for them as it should be.

To counter the effects of human memory's unreliability, there are several practical steps you can take:

▪ Encourage participants to take notes during the educational segments of the event. The act of notetaking itself can significantly aid memory retention.

▪ Enhance the event life cycle by planning the pre- and post-event stages thoroughly. By spreading it out over time, attendees get the chance to "reexperience" key moments and reinforce their memory of the event.

▪ Utilize visual reminders, such as event photos, to firmly imprint the memories of the event in people's minds. By using visual reinforcement, you can combat the vagaries of human memory and ensure that your event remains memorable. Kampfire web app can help you do it seamlessly and with maximum impact.

Clearly, memory is a complex and intriguing subject influenced by a multitude of factors. However, for event professionals aiming to craft genuinely unforgettable experiences, understanding the nuances of human memory is essential.

Event organizers have two powerful assets to navigate the intricacies and complexities successfully: science-based insights and innovative tools. With these at their disposal, they can create experiences that truly stick in attendees' memories, making a long-lasting impact

Making Memories That Last written by Victoria Matey


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