How to Memorize a Speech: A Step-by-Step Guide

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    Does the thought of public speaking make your palms sweat?

    If so, then you’re not alone. One study suggests that approximately 25 percent of the population suffers from glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking.

    Several techniques may be used to remedy or relieve this fear. One of the most common of these is to memorize your speech.

    The idea of memorizing an entire speech may have just caused your heartbeat to speed up to an unhealthy rate. However, this is something that all public speakers confront at some point.

    "The true art of memory is the art of attention."

    When I was asked to give a talk a few years ago, I felt plenty of anxiety. Nonetheless, I challenged myself to memorize my speech. This meant that I spent a lot of time going over the language, and I practiced until I knew forward and backward what I was going to say.

    You know what? That was probably the best speech I’ve ever given.

    When it was time for me to get up on stage, I was nervous, but I also was prepared. I knew that speech cold, and I didn’t have to rely on any notecards that I could have dropped or shuffled in the wrong order.

    Even better, I felt confident. I could make eye contact with the audience, and I could see that they were actually engaging with what I was saying.

    How to memorize a speech

    5 Public Speaking Myths

    By now, you’re probably wondering how to memorize a speech, but it may be valuable to spend a few minutes dispelling some public speaking myths.

    Do you believe any of these? If you do, then it’s time to recognize them and let them go.

    1. Only "naturals" can be good public speakers.

    Maybe there is a tiny percentage of the population for whom public speaking is as natural as breathing. They don’t even need prepared remarks. It’s enough for them to jump up on stage and wing it.

    Maybe those people exist, but I doubt it.

    Think of the best speech you ever heard. Whether it was inspirational, business, politics or something else, you can bet that the speaker didn’t arrive at this skill naturally.

    That’s right, public speaking is a skill, which means that it can be learned by absolutely anyone.

    That great speech that you’ll always remember was probably written, then re-written and then re-written again.

    Just as critically, that speech was tirelessly practiced until it felt natural, but it definitely didn’t start out that way.

    2. If you're good, you don't get nervous.

    This statement doesn’t stand up in any respect. If you are nervous, it’s actually a positive sign. That’s because it’s an indicator that you care about what you’re doing.

    Maybe you care about getting your message across to the audience. Perhaps you’re anxious to make a good impression. Whatever it is, it’s something about which you care deeply, and that’s why you’re nervous.

    Being nervous has nothing to do with whether or not you’re “good.” In fact, you may even be able to focus those nerves so that you give an even better performance.

    3. Introverts can't be good public speakers.

    The opposite of this statement actually is true. Introverts can be fantastic public speakers. Some of the most famous speechmakers of the modern era, such as Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, are acknowledged introverts.

    This is partly because speaking is in many ways a motor skill. In other words, anyone, even an introvert, can train their body to be a better public speaker. That means managing their breathing, taking control of their body language and appropriately projecting their voice for the message and the venue.

    All of these components and more are within the introvert’s control. These are skills that can be practiced, learned and remembered.

    Introverts also tend to be more sensitive than extroverts. This can be exceptionally helpful in the public speaking arena as it leads the introvert to really examine their speechmaking techniques and look for ways to improve.

    4. You have to memorize your speech.

    This may seem counterintuitive to the purpose of this article. However, we aren’t suggesting that you memorize every word of your speech verbatim. Doing so can be a recipe for disaster because if you miss one word or say the wrong word, then your whole speech can be derailed in an instant.

    Moreover, a speech that is memorized verbatim frequently sounds rigid and disengaged. The speaker may deliver the whole thing in a monotone, sounding more like a robot than a human being. This lack of the speaker’s engagement with the material will lead the audience to disengage as well.

    When you practice the techniques that we describe here, you’re not memorizing your speech verbatim. Instead, you’re getting intensely familiar with your subject matter, what you want to say about it and how you want to say it. It’s a formula that’s far more foolproof than total memorization.

    5. A good speech is all in the words.

    Of course the words that you use in your speech are vital, but they aren’t the total package. Other things matter too. A few of these things include your tone, pauses, breathing, body language, making eye contact and your facial expressions.

    Accordingly, as you figure out how to memorize a speech, it’s not enough just to have the subjects and the words in the correct order. It’s just as critical to figure out how you should say the words.

    Which words should be emphasized? Where does it make sense to pause? Would a hand gesture help to illustrate your point?

    All of these considerations go into crafting a memorable and effective speech.

    How to Memorize a Speech

    1. Make an outline of your speech.​

    2. Reduce the Script to Key Phrases.​

    3. Highlight and Memorize Each Key Phrase in Order.​

    4. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.​

    6. Keep a copy of your key phrase list in your pocket when delivering your speech.​

    1. Make an outline of your speech.

    It may be tempting to write out every word of your speech, but this isn’t always a good idea. Having a precise script that you memorize verbatim can end up making you sound robotic and disengaged, which is the same problem that comes from reading a speech.

    Instead, it makes sense to create an outline of your speech. You’ll include parts such as:

    -An introduction;
    -The body, which covers all of the major points you intend to make; and
    -A conclusion

    It’s all right if your outline is pretty rough. Practice reading your outline out loud as if you were giving a speech. Because there are key differences between writing and speaking, reading out loud will tell you what sounds “right” and what needs to be changed.

    Reading out loud will help you to flesh out and rearrange your outline until you have something that works. The outline approach keeps things fresh and creative, preventing you from getting locked into phrases and the order of the topics before you’re ready.

    An outline also leaves you room to be spontaneous on stage or to switch directions if you expect audience reaction to at all influence how your speech will be delivered or the order in which you’ll proceed.

    2. Reduce the Script to Key Phrases.

    Once you’re satisfied with your outline, it becomes your script. Now is the time to start the real work of memorization.

    The key to this is reducing your script to key phrases. Think of these key phrases as the road map of your speech. Once you know these phrases, it’s virtually impossible for you to get lost as you move from your introduction to your conclusion.

    Key phrases don’t have to be long or wordy. In fact, it’s best if they are short and to the point so that they’ll be easier to remember.

    Beginning the memorization process by identifying your key phrases is critical because this is the part of your speech that will be most firmly cemented in your mind.

    Regardless of what happens on that stage, you’ll always have your key phrases at hand to guide you.

    Your key phrases could be anything from your speech. You could use:

    -Describe the problem;
    -Explain my solution;
    -Highlight the advantages of my solution

    As you can see, a list of key phrases may be quite brief. The longer your speech, the more key phrases you may have.

    Once you have identified your main key phrases, it’s time to break down each of these sections into smaller parts. Effectively, you’re looking for the subordinate key phrases that support each of your main key phrases.

    As an example, for the main key phrase “Describe the problem” used above, your supporting points might be:

    -Employee distraction is at an all-time high
    -Mistakes are more common
    -Productivity is down
    -Employees are less invested in their output

    Then, move on to your solution:

    -Prohibit cell phone use during meetings
    -Encourage employees to practice single-tasking rather than multi-tasking
    -Use a timer to promote focus for task completion

    Accordingly, your key phrases for the first section might be:

    -Distraction
    -Mistakes
    -Dropping productivity
    -Less investment in output

    While the key phrases for the second section might be:

    -Prohibit cell phones
    -Single-tasking
    -Timers

    3. Highlight and Memorize Each Key Phrase in Order.

    On your outline, highlight each key phrase. Start with memorizing your main key phrases, which likely will be quick and easy because there aren’t many of them.

    Try repeatedly writing down these key phrases, reading them several times and then covering them with your hand to ensure that you can recall them.

    Next, repeat this process with your subordinate key phrases, remembering to read your main key phrase with the connected subordinate phrases so that you stay organized.

    4. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.

    It is virtually impossible to practice too much in the days and weeks leading up to your speech. The more your practice, the better your recall of your key phrases will be.

    Additionally, lots of practice ensures that you are using good breathing techniques, that you’re pausing in all the right places and that you’re emphasizing certain words so that your point is driven home to your audience.

    Extra practice also lets you get comfortable with things like body language and facial expressions. Don’t forget your personal attachment to the subject matter. Does a certain section come across better with a smile? Is a hand gesture required to highlight a fact somewhere else?

    Lots of practice lets you try out different techniques so that you can discover what works and feels natural for you. Once you have that figured out, you keep practicing to solidify your familiarity.

    As you practice, it’s fine to keep your outline with the highlighted key phrases with you. Refer to it as necessary, but continually challenge yourself to use it less and less as you practice more.

    If possible, ask trusted friends or family members to watch and critique your speech. They may provide helpful tips and insights that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

    Adopt their suggestions if they work for you and seem helpful, but don’t be afraid to discard their ideas if they make you uncomfortable or if you think they will make your speech seem unnatural.

    6. Keep a copy of your key phrase list in your pocket when delivering your speech.

    If the worst happens and you get serious jitters while on stage or something trips you up, all you have to do is refer back to your key phrase list. Because you have practiced so much, seeing your key phrases should be the perfect prompt for getting you back on track.

    If you do have to glance at your key phrases, try to use that moment to reconnect yourself to your speech and why it matters. Remember that you have important information to communicate, take a deep breath and dive back in.

    In Conclusion

    • Public speaking is a nerve-wracking experience for many people, but this won't prevent you from giving a great speech.

      All you have to do is ensure that you are fully prepared.

    That means memorizing your speech. However, it’s not wise to take a verbatim, word-for-word approach. Use the techniques that are described above to help you remember and connect with your subject matter. Doing so will ensure that you give a memorable and effective speech.

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