Remember the US Presidents

Can you remember the US Presidents? In order?

mount-rushmore1-300x199As a Keynote Speakers, a popular exercise in my presentations and workshops is to memorize the US Presidents. This memory tactic is useful for any type of list you may need to recall: product information,  organizational structure, procedures, contact details, etc. I use the US presidents because it’s a fun list that very few people can remember successfully. It is simply an exercise in forming crazy images to stimulate the right side of our brain, the key to remembering! Over the next few posts I thought I would share the images for recalling all 44.

We are going to memorize just five at a time, five for each post until we have them all memorized, (that should earn you a few free drinks in a bar). We will use the ‘Loci’ and ‘Chain’ system combined. The Loci system dates back thousands of years, actually used by Greek scholars, it’s more recently been named the Memory Palace…but it’s the same.

Essentially what we do to memorize 44 presidents is to Chain or Link them together in groups of 5 (4 in the final group) and place each group in 9 ‘Locations’ or Loci we are very familiar with. These Locations act like folders that help keep the packets of memorized information clear. These 9 locations not only have to be very familiar to us, they must also be memorized in order. That is to say, you must be able to take a mental walk from one location to the next in the same exact sequence. Let’s get started…

A perfect location to use for this is your home, or even your place of work. In our home we can utilize the familiarity of the rooms both upstairs and downstairs, and even the front and back yards if necessary, (but not for this exercise). We are able to mentally and logically walk from one room to the next. You can do this by mentally entering your front door and placing your left (or right) hand on the wall and tracing it from room to room. That way you will always ensure you are mentally entering each room in the proper sequence. This is what would happen if I did this in my home:

  • Entering the front door my 1st location would be: Downstairs hallway.
  • Tracing my hand on the left wall I find myself in the 2nd location: Front Living Room.
  • My hand would next take me to the 3rd Location: Kitchen.
  • It then takes me to the 4th Location: Family Room.
  • Onto 5th Location: Laundry Room.
  • Onto 6th Location: Downstairs washroom.
  • And I am back to the hallway so I now mentally travel upstairs using thestairway as my 7th Location.
  • My 1st guest bedroom would be my 8th Location.
  • Exiting her bedroom brings me to the 9th and final Location the upstairs washroom. Done.

With very little effort I have used my home for 9 locations, things I can easy recall. An advanced method of this is to actually use pieces of furniture or appliances in each room as individual Loci, expanding the list ten or twenty fold. Allowing, in this instance to use the piano, sofa, dining room table, fireplace, lamp, speakers, credenza in my front room alone, then possible another 5 or 6 appliances in the kitchen and so on. Many Guinness Memory Records use this method to recall vast amounts of sequential information like thousand of digits of pi etc. Hundreds of locations or routes are used each with many Loci.

So go ahead and choose a location where you know you can recall 9 rooms or places (Loci). If you live in an apartment and find it difficult to come up with 9 rooms try your place of work, just remember you MUST recall the EXACT order of your journey, you must be able to recall the SAME mental walk from room to room. Each of these 9 Locations will be a folder that contains a remembered sequence. For the sequence to be correct between each folder, you must have the order of Locations correct – so make sure that the order of Locations is natural or obvious.

To make this memorization exercise seem a bit more useful, we’re going to make the five items we wish to remember the first 5 presidents of the United States.

As I have said time and time again, the first important step in creating a new memory is to link or connect what we don’t know (order of Presidents) to something wealready know, (rooms in our home). So right now you are familiar with your first Location as you enter your home. Perhaps you’re standing in the hallway. How many windows are there? Is there a closet?  Try to create as detailed a picture as possible. Close your eyes if this will help in your visualization. Here we will memorize our first 5 Presidents in our first of nine folders (Locations). This first folder opens up once you visualize walking through the front door of your home.

Now,  focus your attention on that location. With this image we must associate a washing machine because this represents the first President on our list….Washington. It’s a simple word substitution. We are very visual creatures, until we give ourselves an image to focus on our memory stays in neutral. Although you are familiar with the name Washington, it really does not conjure up an image, whereas an image of a gigantic washing machine does.

However, we must make sure that these images are memorable! Now, you might see an ordinary washing machine in the hallway of your home. The problem, however, is that this is too ordinary. I know it’s not that usual to have a washing machine in your hallway, but it is conceivable. It could have been delivered ready to take to the laundry room, so therefore the image is not that memorable. Imagine, instead, that you are trying to enter your home, but you can’t get through the door. Something is blocking you. That something is a gigantic front-loading washing machine. It’s over ten feet tall! The circular front glass door to the machine where you place the clothes is literally the width of the hallway. You figure the only way in is to smash the front door of the machine. You pick up a huge brick and throw it at the door.

Visualize the door shattering as the brick strikes it. I want you to be able to see the glass breaking in your mind. Hear the glass crack and burst into smithereens. Feel the pieces of broken glass as it hits your face and body. As it is only your imagination, let the sensual imagery be as vivid and lurid as possible.

At this point you are now standing in front of the washing machine, with broken glass everywhere. You are looking at the gaping hole on the front of the machine. You then notice, a huge green apple slowly squeezing itself out of the hole where the glass door was. With a sucking sound it manages to squeeze itself out of the machine and land on the floor in front of you, it’s huge, perhaps two or three feet high. You notice the name ADAM carved out across the apple in huge letters, its Adam’s Apple!

This represents the 2nd President Adams.

Now, visualize running toward you along the hall way is a little Chef’s son, he’s about 6 or 7 yr.’s old, he’s wearing a Chef’s hat, white Chef’s coat, he has a wooden stirring spoon in his hand, flour on his face. He runs up to the apple, drops the spoon and bends over and with both hands he picks up and cradles the apple in his forearms, its that big! He then takes a huge bite from the apple, hear the crunching sound, he then takes a second bite, again hear the sound, perhaps the juice has squirted on you.

This is our 3rd President ‘Chef son’ sounds like Jefferson.

Remember these connections must be absurd and ridiculous. That’s what our minds cling to.

See this happening in your minds eye, try and hear the sound of every crunch as he bites into the apple, see him struggling to consume the whole thing.

With little practice you will begin to see how this sort of imaginative connection works. There’s no more need for rote memory work, or constantly repeating things over and over. If you give your imagination some free reign, the images will soon come to you naturally.

At the moment I’m helping you develop those connecting images, but with a little practice and a willingness to loosen up those imagination engines in your head, the connections will come to you almost automatically.

Okay, back to our story.


Now we must link the Chef’s Son to the image used for the fourth President, which happens to be a Medicine Bottle, and we must do it in a crazy and ridiculous manner.

Imagine this:

As the Chef’s son takes his third bite out of the apple he suddenly screams as he has broken a tooth on something inside the apple. He tears it apart and inside this huge apple is an old glass bottle of medicine (sounds like Madison). He uncorks the bottle with his teeth, spits out the cork and then swigs down the whole bottle of medicine.


Imagine this:

After drinking the medicine the small boy winds up like a baseball pitcher and throws the bottle along the hallway, and it hits someone on the head…who is that person? Hear the sound of the glass as it shatters. …I recognize that person, wow; yes it’s Marilyn Monroe in that famous pose where she is preventing her skirt from blowing up over that New York subway grate. That’s the first 5: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe.

OK, now to review. We come home and place the key in our front door but cant completely open the door because something is in the way, what is it, a huge washing machine, out first president: WASHINGTON.

You smash the circular door with a brick and out pours the huge Green Apple, whose name is carved across the apple? Of course ADAMS, our next president.

Running toward you is the small Chef’s Son, who consumes the apple, JEFFERSON. On his third bite he breaks his tooth on what? The Medicine Bottle….MADISON.

He winds up like a baseball pitcher, who does he throw the bottle at? Marilyn MONROE.

In my next post I will share the next 5 presidents, our second folder (Location). I will chain the next five together in a memorable story and you will place the first name to your 2nd location or room. It’s really that easy!

If you have children share it with them, let them impress their teacher!

Funny, unique and interactive in his entertaining conference keynotes and workshopsBob Gray reveals the untapped potential in each of us. His empowering systems and their many applications in the business world give participants immediate ‘walk away’ value. Book Bob Gray today as your next conference keynote speaker.

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