Improv skills lead to success

Semantic Memory: It (Can Be) a Trap!

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In my previous post, I talked about the difference between episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory, as the name implies, refers to memories of episodes in your life. These memories don’t always come back quickly, or at all in some cases, and they can change over time. Semantic memory, by contrast, refers to items you can recall instantaneously. Knowledge of simple arithmetic is a terrific example what’s contained in your semantic memory.

Episodic memory provides a nearly endless source of inspiration for improvisers and business people alike. Not only can you drawn your personal experiences to create scenes are presentations, you can use your knowledge to understand another person’s point of view. And, of course, if you don’t share another individual’s experiences, you can use your interactions as a tremendous learning opportunity.

Semantic memory can be a bit of a trap in both improv and business. The things that you know and feel that become ingrained enough to become part of your semantic memory can trap you into always reacting the same way to a particular stimulus. For example, you might give a presentation to a prospective client in an industry you’re not familiar with. If they ask a question you’ve answered many times before, you might give an answer that’s appropriate to your previous clients but not to the new client’s circumstances.

In improv, relying on semantic memory results and repetitive scenes and quick burnout. Audiences can be creative, but many times you’ll find that they tend to give the same suggestions. You have to find new ways to ask for input to avoid that repetition or, alternatively, constantly find new ways to build scenes around the suggestions of monkey, banana, and Jell-O. You and your audiences will be happier if you do, especially if you tend to have a lot of repeat audience members.

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