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When Leading, Be Memorable

"How long," I asked my wife, "do you think it would take me to memorize a random deck of cards?"

"Well," she said, "it takes you several hours to find your car keys in the morning, so I'd guess, roughly, 10 or 11 years."

The new U.S. record: 1 minute, 40 seconds (world record: 21.9 seconds). That's for a deck of cards. Finding your car keys has got to take longer.

Joshua Foer, a journalist, won the competition and wrote a book about it, "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything."

How do people remember things? It's a critical question, especially if you've got important info that you need others to retain.

Chris Stein | Stockbyte | Getty Images

Foer used memory techniques from ancient Greece.

One involved imagery. He created a different image for each card, often using celebrities. Then, during the competition, he scanned three cards at a time:

"I saw Jerry Seinfeld sprawled out bleeding on the hood of a Lamborghini (five of hearts, ace of diamonds, jack of hearts)."

At work, do you fire up your message with images?

One CEO opened a presentation with a picture of his refrigerator.

"How would you feel," he asked the audience, "if you stocked your kitchen with pricey meats and cheeses—and then threw it all away? We waste too much money at this company. Let's be frugal."

Another memory trick: sequence. As Foer flipped the cards, he fit each image, sequentially, into his remembered childhood home, room by room.

The Incredible Hulk was near the front door; Seinfeld, bleeding on the Lamborghini, in the hallway.

Do you sequence your info into a story? A story doesn't need to be "once upon a time," but it does need a coherent, room-by-room flow.

Suppose, for example, you wanted people to remember the warning signs of a stroke.

There are five symptoms, according to the Berkeley Wellness Letter (8/08): difficulty speaking; numbness of face, arm or leg; trouble seeing; trouble walking; sudden, bad headache.

Ok. Close your eyes and try to remember those symptoms. It's tough.

But suppose you sequenced the list differently?

This time, let's go from head-to-toe: 1) bad headache, 2) trouble seeing 3) trouble speaking, 4) numbness of face, arm or leg, 5) trouble walking.

Suddenly, it's more memorable.

Now if only I could find my car keys.

Tip: It's not what you say, it's what they remember. Be memorable.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com