Do You Memorize Your Speeches?
There are so many good reasons not to memorize a speech.
First, memorizing a speech can rob you of spontaneity, the ability to react in the moment to the audience and to any unforeseen event.
Second, memorizing a speech can put distance between you and your audience. It’s as if you’re reading from a teleprompter in your mind. You may be making eye contact with your audience, but you’re actually looking at them through a scrolling text in your memory.
Third, memorizing a speech can trip you up. When you’re nervous, your body prepares itself to fight or to run away by sending blood and oxygen to the large muscles. It diverts that blood and oxygen from the higher regions of the brain, which govern verbal skills and memory. So you’re more apt to forget what you were going to say. Which makes you more nervous. Which makes you even less able to remember.
Those are some of the reasons why most speech coaches will advise you against memorizing a speech.
I, myself, often advise my clients against memorizing their speeches. And yet I memorize much, if not most, of every speech I give. And I’d like to suggest you consider doing so yourself.
Here are the parts of a speech I tend to memorize and recommend you memorize.
The Structure or Outline of the Speech
You should be able to remember the main points of your speech from your introduction through your main points to your conclusion.
The weakest points of most speeches are the transitions, how you segue from one major point to the next. (It’s the point where speakers most frequently forget what they’re going to say next.) So work out a sentence or two that connects one point to the next, and memorize it.
The first words out of your mouth – okay, the first 30 or 40 words – are the second most important words of your speech. Don’t leave them to chance or to the inspiration of the moment. Work them out in advance, practice them, and memorize them.
The last words out of your mouth are the most important words of your speech. They require even more attention than your opening.
Stories gain their power and their punch, in part, by the right selection of detail, by phrasing, and my making every word count.
Key Phrases and Sentences
Every quotable line from every memorable speech – from “give me liberty or give me death” through “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — was painstakingly constructed. If you want your main points to be clear, to have impact, and to be remembered, you need to craft them carefully and memorize them. (In Lend Me Your Ears, Max Atkinson examines four rhetorical techniques you can use to make audiences applaud and remember what you say.)
John Kinde, a humorist and professional speaker I admire, offers much the same advice in his article titled “Should You Memorize a Speech?”
One of the questions this raises is, of course, what I mean by memorizing. But that’s the topic for a later post.
Do you memorize any part of your speeches? Do you see any value in it? Does memorizing help or hinder?
Photo courtesy of National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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