Presentation coaches are often asked “Should I try to memorize a speech, or should I just go with an outline?”
The answer, I am afraid, is “that depends”.
If you are delivering a speech in a public speaking competition, for example, you might want to memorize it – so that you get the gestures, the phrases, the syntax and and flow exactly right.
How do you do that? Well, practice, practice practice is the answer.
You need to write your speech, and polish it, and work out exactly what words and phrases and analogies and similes you will use.
And then you need to practice it, block by block.
Memorize the first couple of paragraphs.
And then the next couple.
And then add some more.
And memorize what comes up after each paragraph.
And then practice again.
And again. And again.
When I was regularly memorizing speeches word-for-word, I would find that it took perhaps 50 to 100 times to actually memorize speeches ‘by rote’.
It was time consuming, and boring for my family 🙂
But it meant that every word, every gesture, was exactly as it should be.
But not every presentation needs to be word-perfect.
Many – even most – just need you to get across the key ideas.
For that, an outline and a few short notes may be more than enough.
In fact, for many years, that’s been my preferred approach.
I work out roughly what I want to say, and reduce that to perhaps six key phrases or even words – which can be held in one hand (or even written ON one hand.)
I then glance at each key word, and launch into the idea that is referred to by that key.
I speak on that idea or concept until I have said what I want to say, and then I move on.
It still requires me to work out what I want to say – but I don’t need to memorize every word, every line – merely to memorize the concepts that I want to explain.
But there’s another way to deal with this – “The Memory Palace” – or Method of Loci, as it was described by ancient Roman orators like Cicero.
It involves picturing something familiar – like the entry to your home – and associating key parts of your speech with places and features.
An example might be seeing the door (your ‘opening’ sentences), and then inserting the key (your “key” argument) before opening up into the foyer (expanding that argument).
You might then see your favorite chair (where you invite the audience to sit a while and take in your words) – before you notice a messy side-table (things that appear to contradict your argument)
You clean it up (explain away the apparent contradictions) and offer your audience a drink (invite them to share your conclusion) before offering them some gifts (your take-home message) and then showing them to door (concluding your speech.)
So, that’s the Memory Palace – it’s LIKE memorizing your speech – but it’s not as strict. You are extemporizing within the overall framework of your speech.
Which should YOU use?
Which works best? Memorizing, extemporizing, or localizing? Why not give them all a try, and see what works best for you!