The development of high-affinity B cell memory is regulated through three separable phases, each involving antigen recognition by specific B cells and cognate T helper cells. Initially, antigen-primed B cells require cognate T cell help to gain entry into the germinal centre pathway to memory. Once in the germinal centre, B cells with variant B cell receptors must access antigens and present them to germinal centre T helper cells to enter long-lived memory B cell compartments. Following antigen recall, memory B cells require T cell help to proliferate and differentiate into plasma cells. A recent surge of information - resulting from dynamic B cell imaging in vivo and the elucidation of T follicular helper cell programmes - has reshaped the conceptual landscape surrounding the generation of memory B cells. In this Review, we integrate this new information about each phase of antigen-specific B cell development to describe the newly unravelled molecular dynamics of memory B cell programming.