How Do I Even? Or, How to Memorize Speeches for Presentation

by Janelle Davis

If you’re like most people, the thought of memorizing a presentation leaves your palms sweaty and your head spinning as you desperately try to come up with a way out of this predicament. You are a smart, capable, competent person, but presentations just seem like unnecessary stress in your life. If only they weren’t such an important part of most professional careers!

The WaCC has your back! Here are some handy tips and tricks that can help you memorize that looming presentation or speech.

Keep a couple of things in mind as you experiment with the memorization techniques described below:

  • Not all speeches need to be memorized. For many presentations (assuming you are expected to write the content yourself), having an outline and a familiarity with your topic will be enough.  Make sure you have your organization down and any verbal citations, and then wing it. This is important to keep in mind with longer, original speeches. (For more details on extemporaneous speaking, check out our blog entry on the different types of speeches!)
  • Leave yourself plenty of time to memorize! Memorization times vary widely, but to be on the safe side, give yourself an hour for every minute you plan to speak. As you grow more familiar with your own memorization style, you will get a better idea of exactly how long it takes you to memorize something.

Memorization Techniques

  • If you are a visual learner, you might try the memorization square, a favorite among actors. For this, all you have to do is take a hard copy of your presentation and cover it with a blank piece of paper. Uncover one line or sentence and read it aloud. Then cover it up and try reciting that line from memory. It may take a few repetitions, but once you have that line, add the next one and memorize your presentation one line at a time.
  • For auditory learners, try reading your entire speech aloud, recording it, and playing the recording back for yourself. After listening to it once or twice, try reciting along with the recording. Keep practicing, and make new recordings if you decide to change anything in the speech.
  • Kinesthetic learners might find it easiest to memorize when the reading and recitation accompany physical activity. Move around as you rehearse or take regular breaks to stretch. Involving the body in the memorization process can be key for this sort of learning style.
  • Have a partner follow along with a copy of your speech as your rehearse. If you get stuck on a section and can’t remember what comes next, all you have to do is call out “Line!” to get your partner to read the first few words of the difficult part. This prompting can be very helpful at later stages of the memorization process, especially since this method requires practicing in front of a small audience, and it’s something the WaCC is happy to help with!
  • You can also try combining some of these methods. For example, you might write the speech out by hand, line by line. As you write a line out slowly, say the whole line. Then, once it’s written, cover it up and recite it from memory. As soon as you have one line down, move on to the next. Be sure to treat this cumulatively – say only the line you’re writing as you write, but once you have it down, immediately go back through all of the lines to keep earlier ones fresh and to connect them in your mind.
  • The old standby of repetition, repetition, repetition, should not be neglected. Rehearsing the speech in its entirety, in front of friends or a mirror, can be extremely helpful no matter what learning style you are most comfortable with. Not only does it aid in memorization, rehearsing also helps familiarize us with the act of presenting and can decrease nervousness when you actually present the final product.

Memorization is not equally easy or difficult for everyone. It might take you a lot more or a lot less time than others to commit a presentation to memory. This is normal – don’t let it get you down!

There are a variety of techniques for memorizing material; everyone’s brain processes information a little differently, so do some experimenting, find what works best for you, and don’t be shy about sharing your own tricks!

This is part two in a series on public speaking tips. Look for more posts by Janelle Davis on this topic in the coming weeks!


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