I am frequently asked for advice on how to memorise a speech or presentation. There are a few different schools of thought about this.
Coming from a background as an actor, I am often far more comfortable memorising my speech word for word - rehearsing until the flow is natural, the emotional impetus comes from a place of truth within and I am happy that every pause and nuance enhances the delivery.
When I began working as a trainer I had to learn to relax and trust that my preparation and brief facilitator’s guidance notes would enable me to clearly articulate my points throughout an entire day’s training without relying on memorising a script of any sort.
Nowadays I will always memorise the opening and closing word for word as these are the parts of a presentation that have the most impact. The rest of the speech, while still rehearsed and practiced, may not be delivered word for word depending on the situation. For some people memorising an entire speech word for word can be a disaster if you suddenly ‘dry up’ and have a complete brain freeze so that you can’t remember where you’re up to and what comes next.
The current trend in public speaking is very much about delivering your talk in an easy conversational style which is great news because it means that we can employ methods that enable us to learn our material in other ways than repeating it word for word. Having said that, just because I’m suggesting that you don’t need to memorise your speech word for word doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare well and practice it! So here are some suggestions on how to prepare effectively to remember your presentation:
- Get the content right
I personally draft an outline of my main points and then write my speech out word for word; other people like to record themselves speaking and then go back and write some notes from that. Either way, you need to keep refining it to ensure that it is written the way you talk, not the way you read. Therefore, keep your sentences short and your language simple so that it flows effectively.
- Segment it
Once you have your speech written or typed out, try separating each paragraph or section by making it a different colour. This works well for visual learners as you can connect each section by the colour. Along the same lines, you could put an image next to each section as a reminder of what it contains.
- Use a mind map
Many people find mind maps helpful for consolidating and learning information. I tend to use mind maps only for brainstorming, but this technique has been proven to increase memory retention so it could be worth exploring for yourself. You can find out more about mind mapping here http://thinkbuzan.com/how-to-mind-map/
- Internalise it
Rather than memorising your words, try internalising the speech so that you know the points you want to make and the anecdotes you want to share to illustrate your points. Stories make it easier for an audience to remember your speech and they’ll make it easier for you to remember it too – just think about telling the story.
- Rehearse out loud
In addition to internalising your presentation, it is very important to start rehearsing it out loud – it is only by doing this that you will identify the sentences that need simplifying and areas and transitions that need a bit more work or clarification.
- Practice transitions
Sometimes you can get stuck and forget what comes next when moving from one section to the next so it is important to practice by repeating the transitional sentences to ensure the flow is effortless. If you’re having trouble, try finding links between the words in the previous sentence and the words in the following sentence such as similar sounding words, words starting with the same letter, similar themes or numbers. If it is still clunky, consider re-writing it.
- Use movement
Movement helps memory so stand up and deliver the speech as you would in front of an audience. Our muscle memory never ceases to amaze me. I used to sing in a 60s tribute band and every song was fully choreographed. If I try to sing any of the songs now I can’t remember the words unless I perform the actions as well! When preparing a speech, appropriate gestures and movements to certain parts of the stage can help to not only reinforce your point, but aid your memory.
Take the time to imagine yourself successfully delivering your speech. Do your research to ensure you are able to accurately conjure up a picture yourself in the environment with all the details including sights, sounds, smells, and feelings as you prepare for and deliver your presentation. This is a proven technique that elite sportspeople use and the more vivid detail you can imagine such as your body language, the variety in your voice, how it feels to deliver you speech exactly as you rehearsed it and how the audience are responding, the more effective your memory and ultimately your presentation will be.
Remembering your speech will ensure you are more confident in your delivery; however, there is no getting away from the fact that to achieve this confidence and become a great speaker requires preparation. In the words of Craig Valentine, award winning speaker and speech coach, “Believe you are a great speaker now, and then go and practice like one.”
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.
Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_