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How to remember a speech without notes

Ginger Leadership Communications

We’ve all been in situations where cue cards are not acceptable… or perhaps you’ve forgotten them in your briefcase. Before you let your stomach sink to the bottom of your feet, understand that there ARE ways to remember a speech without written aids. As a matter of fact, your speeches can sound much more conversational and engage the audience even more if you rely on your own memory. Here’s how to improve your memory in public speaking.

“The worst thing you can do to remember a speech is to sit down and try to memorise a pile of cue cards” – World memory record holder, David Thomas.

I used to be terrified of forgetting my lines when doing a speech. So when I was asked to do my TEDx talk I was anxious – how would I manage 20 minutes of speaking with no notes?

Luckily I knew a memory master, whose methods I used. For the first time ever I went completely note free whilst giving a speech! Here are two ways for you to do the same:

1. The Journey Method for remembering a speech

David Thomas, memory whiz (and fan of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking), tells us how to use a journey as a tool to help you remember a speech:

  1. Chunk your talk into a series of trigger words that will help you to remember every section. These should be enough to guide your memory, perhaps 10-15 words.
  2. Think of a journey round a familiar setting, let’s say it’s your home. What you’re going to do is place a different trigger word at certain points in your house to help trigger your memory of that section in your talk.
  3. Define your ‘stations’. If you have 10 trigger words to remember, design a journey round your home that has 10 stops. For me it would be: 1) Front door 2) Coat rail 3)kitchen table, 4) kitchen sink 5) utility room 6) bedroom 1 7) cupboard 8) bedroom 2 9) toilet 10) lounge.
  4. Load your first station. In your imagination, go to your starting point. Create a visual image for your first trigger word and place that at the first ‘station’ in your mind. E.g. if the first part of your speech is about sales, imagine a huge white sail flapping against your front door.
  5. Keep loading the stations. Let’s say the second part of your speech is about performance, so when you step into your front door imagine a Ferrari revving it’s engine right there greeting you.
  6. Make it vivid. Go through all the familiar rooms in your house, each time adding something outrageous and/or silly to trigger your emotional memory. The more emotional response you have to the word you’re trying to remember the better.

When you use the “journey method” of memory, you can quickly memorise up to twenty key words and easily be able to give a speech without notes. If you do happen to forget where you go next, take a trip inside your house in your imagination and grab the next outrageous image.

2. The Bead & Thread Method for remembering a speech

Another vital way to boost your memory and give a speech without notes is to think of the journey you’re taking your audience on as a string with different beads on it. The string is the thread that runs through your entire talk – and the beads are the key moments you want to remember.

This is something I talk about in some depth during the World Class Speaker Series on TED Style speech writing.

The goal here is to own the logic behind the presentation and the transitions from one section to the next, but not to concern yourself with memorising exact words. This usually ends up sounding (and feeling) much more conversational and engaging for an audience.

Use the bead & thread method by having a look at the speech you want to memorise. Look for the main ideas (or beads) that move the speech forward. Think of it as a flow of logic. If your speech makes logical sense, the transitions will come naturally to you, even under pressure. Rehearse that logic until you can recite the logic in your sleep.

Once you know the POINT of your speech, inside and out, the exact words you are trying to remember don’t matter as much.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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