It was the final stage of a humorous speech competition. I had come to win. My speech had been written and honed to maximize its effectiveness. It had been practiced to the level of needing to get this speech out of my system. There were over 200 people in the audience that evening, as well as 10 judges.
One of the judges was a friend that I had competed against in the past. He knew that I would occasionally get a mind blank when delivering a speech even though I rehearse extensively. Anyone who is in the business of public speaking knows that the mind is not the most reliable tool in the presence of anxiety or stress.
My humorous speech was about a camping incident where a bear came into the campsite. I talked about climbing a tree while the bear was shaking it. I had written the tree scene to use the humor rule of three- the first two parts set up the sequence, and the third part was the humorous punch-line. It went like this:
As the bear shook the tree, my brain said, “Climb higher!”, my stomach said, “Jump and run!”, and my bladder said, “Evacuate!”
Unfortunately, when I came to say the third part, my mind went blank. At that moment, I happened to be making eye contact with my friend in the audience who was a judge. The smile on his face gave a clear indication that he knew what was going on. A split second later (not long enough for anyone else in the audience to know), my memory switched back into focus and I delivered my third part, receiving the expected laughter.
Success Strategies for Remembering Speeches and Presentations without Notes
Storyboard your speech. Make sure that your stories and transitions flow in a logical VISUAL format. Questions you can ask yourself are:
a) Does the story relate to the point that I am making?
b) Does the story fit into the overall presentation in a logical manner? Is the progression of the presentation following a natural sequence, such as time based- for example from child, to youth, to teenager, to adult? Another natural progression would be geographical location, such as traveling from my house to the store, stopping at the gas-station.
If your stories and transitions are haphazardly put together, it will be very difficult for your brain to process the information and remember the structure and content of your speech. I previously wrote an article on Mind-Mapping. This is a very useful method to help storyboard your speech and identify which stories would fit best, and in what order. Here is the link to the article:
I use the word- association method when I have a well- structured, storyboarded speech, but still need a few visual prompts to bring me from story to transition to my next story. I basically remember a key word and relate it visually to a key word at the beginning of the next sentence. Here is an example:
At the tender and impressionable age of 21, the family baldness gene exploded in my head. I woke up one morning. My pillow, which only the night before had been clean and pristine, was covered in hair. Yes – the family baldness gene had EXPLODED.
I went to the MIRROR, and did not like what I saw. A negative voice in my head said, “You’re a mess; you’re bald and your ears stick out.”
I went to my mother for consolation. With her ever-positive outlook she said, “Ah, Davey Boy, you’ll have great listening skills with ears sticking out like that!”
“I don’t want great listening skills, Mum, I just want to be able to get a date!”
If I visualize a mirror exploding (an object with an extreme action is the easiest to remember), I know that once I say the sentence with the word “EXPLODED” in it, the next scene is going to be me at the MIRROR.
A well known technique for remembering the structure of a speech is to develop “house files”:
1. Walk through your house rooms and identify key objects (e.g. entry door, side table, window, display cabinet, dining table, floor mat, dresser). Memorize these in a specific logical order (as if you are walking through the room). You can use this layout over and over again for different speeches. Longer speeches may require you to use several rooms, and you move logically from room to room.
2. Now take the structured contents of your speech and assign a memorable visual image that relates to key parts (stories, points, transitions etc.). The more outrageous the visual image, the better.
3. Give each image an extreme action
4. Envision each visual image at a specific room object in a logical speech flow order. As you walk through your room, you are walking through your speech
5. It can take as little as 5 or 10 minutes to remember your visual images in the correct order. Your speech outline is now in your memory.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, let me give you an example using a brief outline of my bear story. My wife and I get woken while tent camping in the wilderness of Canada. She sends me out to check what the noise is, and hands me a tiny unreliable flashlight. I end up in between a bear and its cub, and climb a tree with Mommy Bear in pursuit. If I want to apply this methodology to help me remember the fundamental outline, I would walk through one of my house rooms and:
a. Imagine a tent stuck in my dining room doorway with loud snores coming from it
b. Visualize a bear sitting on my side table with a cub climbing up her leg
c. Envision a small flashlight on the windowsill flickering on and off
d. Picture a tree on top of my display cabinet and I am swaying from side-to-side while holding onto the top of it
e. I am standing on the dining table with a transparent body showing my visible brain, stomach and bladder (to help me remember the “bladder evacuate” humor )
1. Practice, practice, practice out loud (practicing in your head is not very effective). If you feel confident that you have spent adequate time rehearsing, then you will have less anxiety and less probability of memory lapses.
2. Imagine you are delivering your speech successfully in front of your audience (a positive outlook helps reduce anxiety).
3. Make sure the structure of your speech or presentation is clear in your mind, and that you are not losing your way. If you are losing your train of thought, then you have a good indication that you need to make changes.
4. Make sure the content of your speech flows smoothly. I find that my personal stories are easy to recall, and the main stumbling area is typically in the transitions. I spend more time sharpening my transitions. Again, if I find I am stumbling with words, sentences, etc., I make changes.
A speech that is memorized too much can come across as mechanical or unnatural. Find the balance.
1. Write out the outline of a short speech in 5 bullet-points
2. Follow steps 1 through 5 above in Strategy 3, using the five “house files”
3. Test the effectiveness of this memorization by identifying the image/action at each location (point to the location and say what image/action is located there)
a. In logical order
b. In reverse order
c. In random order
4. Practice, practice, practice visualizing the outline in logical order until it becomes ingrained in your brain.
5. Repeat the four-step exercise, but now use ten bullet points and ten different “house files”.