How To Memorize Speeches

In One Month, One Day, or One Hour
Speeches & Toasts Delivered in Minutes

And, um, uh... Standing in front of an audience trying to give a speech that you don't remember is not fun by any stretch of the imagination. It can hurt your credibility and destroy your rapport. On the other hand, delivering a speech that you know you've memorized well lends an extra dose of confidence that can boost your performance mediocre to extraordinary.

Unfortunately, memorizing speeches can take a great deal of effort. Fortunately, understanding a few key principles can help us learn to memorize speeches in One Month, One Day, or One Minute.

Principles of Memory

Most people work against their memory, rather than with it. Brute force repetition will make things stick eventually, but that technique forces its way through the natural conduits our minds build to our memories instead of working with them. We need to keep the following principles in mind as we memorize our speech:

1. Memorization works with existing cognitive structures. In other words, we remember things better if they relate to something that we already know. That's why teachers encourage using mnemonics (memory-aiding devices) to remember lists of items - one of my favorites is Roy G. Biv, a name that represents the order of colors in the spectrum (Red, orange, yellow, Green, Blue, indigo, violet). Mnemonics link unknown items to things already stored in our memories.

2. Memory is aided by interest. If you are interested in something, you are a lot more likely to remember it. It's much easier to remember that Grover Cleveland served two terms as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States if you know that he was an executioner (and sheriff; he hanged at least two people) about fifteen years earlier.

3. Spaced repetition leads to memorization. When you first learn something, it is stored in short-term memory. With time it either fades or is transferred to more permanent, long-term memory. The key to long term memory is spaced repetition, exposing yourself to the material again right before you forget it (but not too soon, because then you're just wasting time). It is the basis of multiple memory aids and the subject of an article in Wired magazine about memory.

Applying these principles in different ways will let us memorize our speech in One Month, One Day, or One Minute.

Speech Memorization in One Month

This is the best time frame to have, and also the one least likely to occur. If you have a week or upwards to memorize your speech, then go you! Here's how to use

Principle 1: Existing Cognitive Structures. You have time to work from the ground up with this one. First make a very, very general, broad outline of your speech. Memorize it (you can use repetition techniques detailed below under the day time frame to do this). After memorizing it, fill in some details. Memorize them the next day. Then fill in even more details, and memorize them. Start slowing integrating full sentences. Working from the bottom-up, you can go from the broad outline to the text of your speech. The outline will be the easiest to remember, and it will provide the "memory tree" to hang the rest of your speech on. By the time you finish, you will know the speech like the back of your hand. Congratulations!

Principle 2: Interest. If you're still having a hard time memorizing your speech, spice up the environment you're in. Don't make it distracting, but do make it active. Walk around while you memorize. On your off time, find new, interesting things that are pertinent to your topic.

Principle 3: Spaced Repetition. This is why it is important to leave time between memorizing the outline and memorizing the details. Once you memorize the outline, returning to it the next day (plus adding more information) will serve to cement it in your memory. Once you have something memorized, review it a day or two later. After that, review it in a week. If you still remember it, review it once more and it'll be there to stay.

Speech Memorization in One Day

Despite the short time, the same principles still apply to memorizing a speech in a day. So,

Principle 1: Existing Cognitive Structures. This is even more essential now, because you don't have as much time to build the cognitive structures from the base up. First, make a broad outline and memorize it using the repetition techniques below (under principle 3). Then, pull out important phrases or sentences that you want to get word-perfect. Put them in, and again memorize the outline plus the added details. Add items to the speech itself to help you remember its structure - for example, perhaps you will first use a dog example, then a cat, then a mouse. Associate parts of your speech with things you already understand in a logical order (numbers, letters, people, etc). When you come to a part of the speech you don't remember as well, you just need to think of what it is associated with in order to recall the things you want to say.

One word of caution, though: don't make it too complicated. If you color-code your paragraphs using the order of colors in the spectrum (see mnemonics under the first principle at the top), don't also number the paragraphs. It's redundant and makes your brain work overtime.

Principle 2: Interest. If you spice your speech with interesting facts or bits of information, you can jump from fact to fact, filling in the explanation in-between.

Principle 3: Spaced Repetition. If you have the full day, take advantage of it. Memorize as much as you can in the morning, then take a nap to cement your memories. Rememorize, and add some detail. Take a brief nap again, then finish up the day by reviewing the whole speech directly before you go to sleep at night (this way, your brain utilizes the time you are asleep to cement those memories in particular). In the morning, review it again before you give it.

To memorize the outlines, use repetition. I find that the most effective way for me to memorize is to first, say it out loud. Then, to write it down while I recite it again, still looking at the source material. After that, I construct something that will help me remember without the source material (first letters of each word on a notecard for an outline; outlines for whole speeches), then recite using that memory aid. Finally, I divorce myself from all memory aids and try to recall the whole thing, returning to the aid when I don't remember.

Speech Memorization in One Minute

If you only have a minute or two to remember your speech, only one thing applies:

Principle 1: Existing Cognitive Structures. Use something you already know for a general structure for you speech. I like overarching analogies. For example, if I need to remember something in a speech, I'll liken it to my house. What is in the coat room right after entering? The living room? From there we can go to the kitchen - what items are there? How do they relate to the kitchen? In this manner, I can put a speech's introduction in the coat room, the general information in the living room, and the in-depth analysis in the kitchen, walking through the house in my mind as I give the speech. It sounds odd, but it works! For more information, see Method of Loci.

Happy memorizing!
Speeches & Toasts Delivered in Minutes | speeches & toasts | wedding speeches
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