Rhetoric & Homiletics: What Causes People To Remember

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What good is speaking if the audience doesn’t remember?

There ARE reasons that people remember what they hear and see!  

There may well be some “Motivated Forgetters,” though they are serial speakers and preachers, who would like to push aside the “human reasons,” which contribute to recall.

Some may believe that it is incumbent on God’s people to listen to a pastor, even though one of the qualifications for pastoral ministry is “apt to teach.”

“Apt to teach” means that there will be those who are “not apt to teach,” as seen by the fact that they make it hard on an audience to listen, no less remember.

Reasons People Remember:

We remember because what we are hearing /seeing is . . . .

√  Useful:  It is a useful piece of information that will help me in my personal, family, spiritual, or professional life.  It has applicational value.

√  Personal: It speaks directly to me.  It is about what I am experiencing right now in my life situation.  It may . . . .

•  potentially offer help about a personal and present life situation
•  answer a question I have and/or have had for some time
•  help me interpret what is happening when I see or hear that1

√  Usable:  Have you said to yourself, “I have to remember that.  I can use that!” —  that fact, thought, idea, or even wording?  Now we may need to write it down to better remember it, but we are still motivated to remember what was said.

That is why you will notice someone pulling out a piece of paper (writing it in the margin of their Bible, or back flyleaf) after you make that comment.

√  Dissonant:  Dissonance is created when we come into contact with facts or information which upset our mental equilibrium. 2  Information conflicts with what I believe and creates a mental imbalance, which I then feel a need to resolve.

√   Surprising:  I would not have thought or guessed that.  That is actually true?  Huh!  Fooled me!

Here is question #1 taken from a quiz about memory . . . .

Quiz On Memory:3

#1) Most adults can’t remember anything that happened before they were 3 years old.

⌊ ⌋ True

⌊ ⌋ False

√  Visual: But do NOT think that Powerpoint presentations aid memory.  They do not per sé!  For some, that statement will create a level of dissonance.

What aids memory are “visuals,” which help us see an example or grasp a concept that is difficult to grasp otherwise — “Oh, I see what you mean!”

√  Highly Emotional:  Studies in persuasion indicate that high emotional content, far more often than not,  results in “audience avoidance.”  We purposefully avoid hearing or seeing highly emotional content.  That is why you/we turn off this or that commercial5 or program, and why the broadcaster says, “The following content is highly disturbing.”

If this is true . . . .

What does all this say about public address, preaching, or teaching?

Consider . . . 

What good is speaking
if the audience doesn’t remember?

1. See —  “All Too Common Complaint:  It Wasn’t Practical

A part of preaching is to help people understand life and living —  To answer the confusions which litter life in a fallen world — To interpret life’s events.”

You can see “interpreting life” as “sermonic application” or as the task of exposing biblical truths, precepts, and principles in such a way so as to help people understand . . . .”

2. Dissonance: For instance, I recall a time when I  read an article that propounded that the divorce rate among Christians was as high or higher than the “world.”  I didn’t believe it!  Not because I did not want to accept it as true, but because of my Ph.D. minor in statistics.  What variable could possibly account for a higher rate of divorce when the Christian population is merely a subset of the American population?  It was indeed untrue as I suspected, and as subsequent articles several years later stated — It was proven to be total nonsense!

3. If you would like to take the whole quiz on memory, click on this link.
Answer To Question #1 of the Quiz:
If you answered “FALSE,” you were mistaken. It is TRUE!

Most adults can’t remember anything that happened before they were 3 years old.

    • Correct Answer:True

You might recall one or two events before you were 4, but not much before you were 3. Children begin to identify objects around them (semantic memories) by 10 to 12 months. They remember things that happened earlier in time (episodic memories) by 20 to 24 months. You may not be able to form memories solid enough to survive into adulthood until you can think about what happened in words.

4. Have you seen the commercial on smoking, where an attractive young lady has been physically devastated by years of smoking and is now horribly disfigured due to the ravages of cancer?  Do you want to turn it off or look away?

5. I know that this might create some dissonance for those who use “PowerPoint” all the time, or a lot, but —-> Check it out!

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