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man giving presentation to board room - how to memorize your speech, adn what to do if you forget

How to Memorize Your Speech

(and what to do if you forget)

You’re standing on stage, your presentation is going swimmingly, then suddenly… da da da … it happens.

You can’t remember what you’re supposed to say. Your memory is a complete blank. You’re derailed.

We’ve all been there and have the stories to tell.

What can or should you do when it happens? Fortunately, there are many techniques you can use to memorize your speech. There are also techniques you can learn to recover your memory while on stage that will help get you back on track.

Flight or fight – blame it on your body

When your body is in a heightened state (aka nervous), it releases a series of chemicals. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two troublemakers. In flight or fight mode, adrenaline reroutes blood and energy to the heart and muscles and takes it away from the other organs such as your stomach. Those butterfly sensations in your stomach are the result of your blood vessels closing. The other culprit is cortisol, which causes memory impairment. So, there you have it, fight or flight mode gives you a queasy stomach and impairs your memory. You’re experiencing a physical reaction to your body’s chemical changes.

Now what?

Preparing with memory in mind

You can begin safeguarding your memory with these 12 easy memory tips.

Preparing to memorize your speech

Tip #1- Don’t memorize, internalize

Rather than memorizing your speech word for word, memorize the first two sentences and the closing and work on internalizing the rest. Internalizing your presentation means that the words may change slightly every time you deliver the message, but the core message and content will not. Conversational presentations are much easier to relate to and are far better received by the audience.

Tip #2 – Visualize your presentation

Pictures are easier to remember than words; draw your presentation in the form of an image. For example, start with a picture of a stick person. The main message is the spine, the subpoints are the arms and legs, and the supporting stories or statistics are the fingers and toes. If a house or tree image works better for you, use whatever image makes the most sense when memorizing your speech.

Tip #3 – Tell stories

Do you find it’s easier to remember a story within a presentation than a presentation that just had data? Audiences love stories and, when woven into the theme, are excellent for illustrating points. Telling stories is like showing the audience your own movies, making them easy for you to remember and for the audience to relate to.

Tip #4 – Create a solid structure. 

Presentations all contain an introduction, body, and conclusion; however, the order of your presentation should make sense to you and your audience. After each section, ask yourself –what happens next? One idea should flow easily and logically to the next. Transitional phrases can help with logic and memory. Simply saying, the 2nd reason is… creates a logical transition to the next section and helps in memorizing your speech.

Tip #5 – Group words or phrases

Telephone numbers are grouped into three: two sets of three digits followed by one set of four digits. Why? Because it’s much easier to remember three groups of digits rather than one long number. You can use that same technique with words and phrases when memorizing your speech. For example, as a speaker, I worry about three things: poor memory, poor content, and poor audience reaction.

Tip #6 – Alliteration 

Alliteration, repeating the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent words, adds colour and flavour to your presentation and is easy to remember for both you and your audience. For example, a positive mindset begins with three p’s: perspective, purpose, and practice.

Tip #7 – Practice your presentation in sections

Your speech is divided into three sections; introduction, body, conclusion; when practicing, divide and conquer! Practice each section separately before putting it all together.

Tip #7 – Use Keywords

Motivational speakers make effective use of keywords. Tony Robbins’ “change your words, change your life” keywords plant the image in your mind and are referenced throughout his presentation. You can use the same technique, be careful not to overuse them, or they lose their potency.

Tip #8 – Use images for key points

A picture speaks a thousand words – effective images within your presentation enhance the audience experience and serve as memory aids to you and your audience.

Tip #9 – Map a physical journey to objects in your house

Allocate your house or office areas to sections of your presentation; for example, your office door is your introduction, your office desk is your 2nd point, and your office window is your third point. Physically move to each location for your different sections. Movement is a memory trigger.

Tip #10 – Add props and movement

Gestures program memory and interpret data for your audience. They also add flavour to your presentation.

Tip #11 – Long-term memory works best over time

Practicing every day for 20 minutes over several weeks works much more effectively than cramming all your practicing

into a few days before your presentation. If you play a musical instrument, you can understand that it’s tough to cram your practicing into a couple of days and expect to deliver a stellar performance. Give yourself the gift of regular practice spaced out over time.

Tip #12 – Take good care of your body

You can follow every single tip, but if you’re sleep-deprived, hungry, or sick, your body can hijack your performance. Ensure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to keep your presentation engine in mint condition.

When you get derailed – what to do

Rehearsals aside, what if you gaff during a presentation?

Tip #1- Say something

Whatever you do, don’t say- “my mind is blank “or “wow, I’m so nervous.” Your job is to deliver the information you were hired to deliver in an engaging way, not to make the audience uncomfortable. Be the professional you are and take the opportunity to use the pregnant pause to ask your audience a question or even summarize. They’ll never know you had a memory gap.

Tip #2 – Bring index cards

Take a short trip to your local office store and pick up a package of 3×5 index cards and write the major themes of your presentation on each card. Index cards are easy to practice with and can be brought to your presentation. During a slip – a quick glance will put you on your way.

Tip #3 – Apply staging and movement to your presentation

Just as you assigned different areas of your office or house to different areas of your presentation during your practice, you can do the same during your presentation. When you’re standing at a podium, even though you can’t use the stage, look at different sections of the room during key moments during your presentation. If you have access to the entire stage, the introduction could be delivered centre stage, the body could be divided into three sections of the stage corresponding to your main themes, and at the conclusion, you could move back to centre stage.

Tip #4 – Practice, practice, practice

Practice every day, practice at home, practice wearing your presentation outfit, practice in front of friends or your spouse. The more you practice, the more ingrained the presentation techniques and delivering your presentation become. If you can practice on the actual stage, even better. Viral Ted Speakers practice their talks hundreds of times before they step on stage. Practice gives you the confidence to know you can and will deliver your best performance and receive a great outcome. Practice what you want to ingrain and do it often when memorizing your speech because – practice makes permanent.

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