Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Let's hear it for clichés: Speaking to eyes and ears.

'The brain best remembers things that are repeated, rythmic, rhyming, structured, and above all easily visualized.' So writes Joshua Foer in his marvellous book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. The book details Foer's year of training for the US Memory Championships and along the way examines a host of associated scientific, cultural and curious aspects of memory. It weaves journalism, science, autobiography and memoir together in an incredible and often humorous way. Highly recommended, and I'm sure something to which this blog will return. But for the moment that one sentence stays with me:

'The brain best remembers things that are repeated, rythmic, rhyming, structured, and above all easily visualized.'

Foer's is writing about what can be leant from ancient bards. In a world where memory was essential to remembering they used clichés in content and style so that what was said might be remembered. What we often think of as bad habits in speaking (or writing) they cultivated as ways of sharpening the recall of the stories they told. Such methods are apparent in the parables and teachings of Jesus, in the Psalms, and indeed throughout the scriptures. And the mnemonic principles established by modern psychological research confirms the wisdom of these ancient ways.

Why then do we preachers so often ignore them? Shouldn't every sermon speak to the eyes and ears of the listeners before anything else? Our spoken words need a strong visual component. Speak so that people see something vivid created by what's said. Our spoken words need to be addressed to ears. Speak so that it's easy to listen and to engage. These things need the structures and techniques of the ancient bards.

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