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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stewart

Memorise Your Speech Like a Pro: The Ultimate Trick Revealed"

Memorising your speech or presentation

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. You have your speech written out on five

sides of A4 paper, you’ve spent hours crafting your masterpiece, you can visualise how enthralled your audience will be with your choice of eloquent words, but will you remember any of it when you stand up in front of them? You know you won’t, you can barely memorise the first two lines. Immediately, your vision switches from you wooing your audience with your wit and spontaneity to standing there silent, alone, your mind a blank, an utter disaster.

Of course, you could just read from your script, that would be safe, but you know it looks terrible you’ve seen it all too often. You could try summarising your script onto a few prompt cards and then holding them casually in your hand, so your audience doesn’t notice them. Really? You might even consider briefly investing in a teleprompt, I know I have. In reality, reading from any kind of prompt is just that, reading. You can’t hide it, it’s not free flowing and it’s definitely not spontaneous.

So how do those ‘professionals’ you see in all walks of life get up in front of their audience and confidently present a monologue of ideas, perhaps a new business strategy, or a comedy stand-up routine, without any apparent prompts, without hesitation and with the air of someone having a relaxed conversation with their audience? How do they deal with questions or interruptions and then casually go straight back to their story again, barely missing a beat? Is it a natural ability only a very small number of people have, or are they just superhuman? Well, I’ve got good news for you, it’s neither of those last two.

There is a simple trick you can learn that will enable you to deliver your next speech, talk or presentation like those professionals, with confidence, with spontaneity, in a more relaxed conversational way, and without any prompts (well none that the audience can see anyway).

Interested? Of course you are, read on.

Perhaps this is a good time to insert a little warning here. I said the trick is ‘simple’, and indeed it is, however, whilst simple, it does involve effort on your part, and lots of practice. But then again, if you want to be that superstar in front of your audience, it will be more than worth it.

The trick I am talking about is in fact 2,500 years old, dating all the way back to 477 B.C. It was said to have been invented in ancient Greece and was first portrayed in the story of Simonides of Ceos and the collapsing banquet hall (look it up). Shakespeare even used this trick in the Globe Theatre in London when he wanted his actors to memorize their lines. In more recent times it has been used by magicians to perform incredible feats of memorisation using the position of playing cards or recalling the names of an entire audience. It was also made famous by Sherlock Holmes as the technique he used to store large amounts of information in his memory that he could easily pull out whenever he needed it to solve a case. Wouldn’t you like to be able to think like Sherlock Holmes?

The trick, which was originally referred to as the ‘Method of Loci’ is an extremely powerful memory process used to commit a large amount of new information to your long term memory by combining visual and spatial memory. It involves imagining yourself placing pieces of information around a room and then visualising yourself walking back through to pick the information up (the word loci is in fact the plural form of the Latin ‘locus’, which means ‘location’). In this way the process helps you recall all of your points in order. Something that is likely a reference to the ‘method of loci’ technique survives to this day in the common English phrases ‘in the first place’ or ‘in the second place’, and so on. The method of loci is one of several mnemonic devices, or memory strategies that use information you already know to help you retain new information. I won’t delve anymore into the history, or how and why the process works by manipulating our brain’s memory functions. I will leave that to you to look up if you’re interested in reading more. For now, my goal is to explain as simply as I can how we can put the technique to practical use to enable us to memorise and deliver a speech.

Mind Palaces:

Sherlock Holmes talked about his ‘mind palace’ or his ‘mind attic’ as the place where he stored all of his information. This is really the crux of the technique. A mind palace is essentially a room or a building that you have memorised and you use the locations in that room to store data in your mind, thereby combining visual and spatial information (which of course aligns completely with how your own brain stores memory).

The technique is simple. First, choose your mind palace. This could be anything, but why not make it easy for yourself and choose your own home. That way you don’t have to learn anything new. Visualise walking up to your front door and stepping in. Now, you need to choose a route you are going to walk around your house, whether that be clockwise or anticlockwise, and you must always stick to that same route in your mind. If you live in a bedsit, this is going to be much easier!

Go into the first room, perhaps it’s the lounge. Pick out key items of furniture and number them. Again, work to the same theme, either clockwise or anti clockwise around the room. Choose five big or memorable items of furniture that are spaced around the room and number them.

Then go to the next room in your clockwise/anti clockwise tour around your house. Stand in the doorway of every single one of your rooms and number five pieces of furniture in that room - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Go to the next room - 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Go to the next room - 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Number five pieces of furniture in every one of your rooms.

A few rules here. Choose big items, don't pick small items, and remember to spread them around the room. Good items to pick will be things like a memorable painting, a bookshelf, desk, computer, cabinet, large plant, TV, refrigerator, or a sink. If you use a chair in one room, don't use another chair again.

You must number order each item in your room and follow that same order every single time you use your mind palace. When I first learned the mind palace technique I was walking aimlessly through my house and seeing things that I wanted to remember. Whilst this seems interesting and is partially correct, it negates how a mind palace truly functions. A mind palace’s functionality lies largely in repetition and visual cues. You must establish a route that you will always take when recalling things, and give a number to each item. For instance, I always enter through my front door and then I turn left and work around my house in a clockwise motion. I work clockwise in every room as well until I finally make it back around to the beginning of the route at my front door.

Once you have a route and a list of furniture items in your mind palace determined, you need to know it better than the back of your hand. Close your eyes and count through the items of furniture along the route, over and over again, forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards until you know them inside out. A good practice is to quiz yourself. For instance, what's item number eight (the third item in the second room)? Chose random numbers and picture the item of furniture in your mind. You need to be able to think of it quickly without going through all the rooms.

You might think this is too much work. Do you really want me to number and memorise all these pieces of furniture in my house?’ Well, I did say a little effort was needed if you are going to become a super speaker, but don’t forget, it’s not that hard really. You already have these locations memorised, it’s your house after all.

These locations are going to be your very own mind palace. As I said, this will take some time and effort, but it will be time well invested as you will be able to use this mind palace for literally anything you want to memorise any time in the future, whether that be something as grand as a speech or as mundane as a shopping list. Once you have established your mind palace (or mind home might be a better name), you can move onto the next step.

Memorising your Speech:

Now take each key point or line of your speech (or whatever else it is you want to memorise) in chronological order, and turn those points or lines into pictures, and imagine them around the pieces of furniture in your house. No two minds work completely the same, so these visual prompts will be very personal to you. Make sure the pictures are vivid, colourful and as outrageous or absurd as you can make them. This is how your memory works best, linking each point you want to remember to a vivid visual prompt and filing it away in an easy to remember location, which helpfully has a number attached to it.

As a simplistic example, let's say you want to memorise a speech which comprises 20 key points you want to make sure you cover. Link those key items in chronological order to your first 20 items of furniture. For example, suppose key item number seven is a story about a waterfall. In your mind palace, number seven is a computer. So, let’s imagine a blue waterfall coming through the ceiling and pouring all over the computer and the computer is showering vivid red sparks all over the room. As you give your speech, you walk through your house visualising the items of furniture in order and relating the visual points linked to each item. As you come to come to point seven, you will immediately see the computer, now shooting out red sparks because of the blue waterfall, and will confidently relate your story about the waterfall.

It really is that simple.

When you're up on the stage, in front of your audience, knees trembling, you just need to think back to your house, walk your (by now very familiar) clockwise or anti clockwise route, and the numbered items of furniture combined with the pictures you have associated with each will tell you what your lines are. If you are interrupted or need to take a question, just remember where you were in your journey around your house, and you will immediately be able to go straight back to that place again. No need for scripts or fumbling around with cards, just a relaxed recounting of a story as you journey around your own home.

It was good enough for Sherlock Holmes, it was good enough for Shakespeare, and it will work for you.

A concern many people have in regards to the mind palace is what if you have added some information to your mind palace and when you try to add more information your brain gets confused with the two different lists of things. The answer to this is fairly simple. You are no doubt familiar with more than one location in the world, so yes, you can create more palaces if you need to.

This mind palace technique works for me, but may not be for everyone. If this process doesn't work for you, there are many others you can utilise to improve your memory capacity that might be a better fit. I invite you to go and have a deeper look both into the mind palace process itself (there’s lots of information out there), and other techniques as well.

A few additional tips to consider:

While the mind palace process will work for memorising very detailed scripts or lines, it will be easier and quicker to apply the method to memorising let's say 10 key points to a speech. This won’t enable you to deliver your script verbatim (as an actor would need to do), but often when you give a talk you don't want to do a word for word piece. Memorising the 10 key points will ensure you cover all your points whilst still sounding spontaneous, and you won't lose your place.

It is very important to hand write (not type) your speech out in full first, at least once, because it gives your brain the chance to actively work through and memorise it in a different way than it does when you are speaking. Once you are done writing out your speech, you can start rehearsing it. There can be no memorisation without rehearsing and practicing giving a speech (unless you have an eidetic memory).

It is good to start by simply reading what you have written. Each time you repeat it you will remember more and more, and soon you will be able to rehearse whole parts without looking at your speech in written form. You can also try rehearsing in front of a friend or family member (or a video camera) to make the situation a little bit more realistic.

Memorise the main parts first. Many experts agree that the crucial advice when it comes to memorising a speech is to memorise it hierarchically. Start with the big chunks or ideas, then specific paragraphs, phrases, and finally, words. Think of these as the chapters in a book. Your mind palace will really help you with this.

By now, you already know the ideas that you are discussing, so you can easily associate sentences and words with them and recall them correctly using your mind palace. After remembering specific topics, you can start memorising specific paragraphs, phrases, and finally, specific words.

Just in case you are interested…

How did Shakespeare use this technique to memorise lines? Well, when he had the Globe Theatre constructed, he actually had this ancient technique in mind in the architecture. He had five columns and five doors built around the theatre, each one in a different vivid colour. The columns and doors were locations where his actors would imagine their lines and see them interacting with the columns or the doors. The different colours helped to distinguish the doors and the columns. In addition, they would use paintings, or other locations such as steps coming up to the stage, or the theatre exit to memorise their lines. Then they would take whatever they wanted to say and create pictures for it, visual brain triggers that they would see on one of the columns, or on a door, or one of the paintings or any of the other locations. All over their theatre they would have brain triggers to remind them of their lines. So, if they were ever in the middle of a play and were stumped for a second and couldn't remember where they were, they would simply go around the theatre in their mind; and the cues and images on each locations would tell them what they needed to say. An important thing to remember is they always went in the same order around the theatre, going to each location in the same order. That is how Shakespeare used the Globe Theatre itself as a memory prompt for his actors.

I hope this article might be of some help to you. I would love to hear your successful (and not so successful) stories about public speaking and any techniques you have that work for you.

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