The Master Communicator Blog

Five memory hacks to improve your speaking

Memorizing a speech can make you sound robotic. What if you could remember just enough to trigger your memory and deliver a stellar presentation with confidence? Here are five memory hacks to help you communicate with impact.
May 28, 2024

To memorize or not memorize. That’s a common question from my clients.

It’s not wise to memorize a speech. Yet sometimes it’s necessary to remember some parts of your talk or presentation, but straight memorization will often backfire. Have you ever watched a speaker go blank in the middle of a speech? Likely they lost their place in the memory stream. Don’t let that happen to you.

Last October, I wrote about the Ancient Greek Loci and memory palace methods, whereby you associate bits of information with an imaginary location in a house or other physical place.

Here are five other proven techniques you can use to prepare and deliver speeches with confidence. But a word of caution: memorization of text should not be literal, or you may sound like a robot. Aim to commit to memory only what is essential to your message. Focus on the structure and flow of concepts and ideas that will inspire and transform your audience.

1. Repetition

Repeat key messages, terminology, or data points multiple times to reinforce the information in your memory. Research suggests that we need to see and hear information five to seven times for it to transition to memory. We tend to forget what we learn quickly. However, each time you repeat something, you reset the clock on the forgetting curve, making it more likely that you will retain the information in the long term.

Don’t just read the information you want to remember silently. Say it aloud. When you read and speak, you’re processing it visually and acoustically. This dual mental “encoding” enhances retention.

Similarly, it takes five to seven exposures of your content to your audience before it begins to sink in and moves to long-term memory. This means that you should repeat vital information that number of times in your speech or presentation to drive home your big idea.

2. Chunking

Break your speech into smaller chunks or sections and focus on remembering one at a time. Once you have mastered each section, you can connect them smoothly. If you’re a visual thinker like me, try writing your chunks on post-it notes and arranging them on a wall or a board where you can view and move them around easily. You can color code your chunks and rearrange them to create transitions and flow for your content. Assigning colors and placement on your display surface will help you remember them based on their location, too.

Chunking is a wonderful way to create your content as well by organizing ideas logically and helping your audience follow along. It breaks down complex information into digestible pieces instead of mere isolated facts. Steve Jobs’ legendary commencement speech at Stanford is an excellent example of the chunking method.

3. Visualization

You can create mental images for key ideas in your speech and recall information more easily. For example, if your talk includes a point about growth, you might imagine a tree growing from a seed. Mind maps are useful visualization techniques, too. A mind map could be a diagram or a drawing resembling a graphic recording or visual notetaking of a meeting with illustrations and callouts capturing the main points.

You can also imagine yourself moving through different sections of your speech as if you were walking through the rooms in a house (Loci and memory palace methods). Each room represents a section, and visualizing this journey helps you remember the structure and sequence of your speech.

4. Mnemonics

Use mnemonic devices like acronyms, acrostics, or rhymes to remember crucial points in your speech. For example, when I give talks about virtual executive presence, I use the ASSET acronym to explain the five indispensable elements to convey credibility and trust on Zoom: appearance, staging, styling, energy, and technology.

An acrostic involves forming a sentence or phrase where each initial letter represents an item or concept you need to remember. The trick is to create a catchy phrase that makes the associated items easier to recall.

Here’s a classic acrostic for the order of the planets in our solar system and how it breaks down:

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles

  • My – Mercury
  • Very – Venus
  • Educated – Earth
  • Mother – Mars
  • Just – Jupiter
  • Served – Saturn
  • Us – Uranus
  • Noodles – Neptune

Rhymes also help with recall for both the speaker and the audience. The rhythmic nature creates a predictable pattern that helps the brain anticipate what comes next. It works like music, which is known to enhance memory. Rhymes create phonetic links between words. For example, remembering “plan” can help recall “man” if they rhyme in your speech.

Many legendary orators used rhythmic language. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech contains several rhyming phrases that emphasize his vision for equality. The same applies to advertising and political slogans.

Suppose you want to highlight the importance of preparation in public speaking. You might say:

  • Preparation is key, for you and me.
  • Deliver with grace and find your place.
  • You can change the world with the power of your words.

5. Physical Movement

You can boost your memory by incorporating gestures and body language. By associating parts of the speech with specific movements, you are engaging your sense of touch to retain information. When you move around and use arms, hands, head, and facial expressions as markers, you can establish section breaks and transition points for your content. The choreography of your movements can help you recall the sequence of ideas or chunks in your speech.

Practicing your presentation in the same physical environment where you will deliver it creates contextual memory cues, much like the stage blocking methods used in acting. And a bonus benefit is that movement engages the dimension of body language that animates and accentuates your messages.

Combine these techniques with intense practice, but don’t over rehearse. Presentation guru Nancy Duarte says that “when you start to feel yourself memorizing words rather than concepts, it’s probably time to stop rehearsing.” Your goal should be to communicate ideas, even if you express them in different words.

I advise my clients to record themselves rehearsing and to practice in front of people unrelated to their work. Practice diligently and often. Then, set a date and time to stop rehearsing. Perhaps the night before the big day, say 6 p.m. Stop thinking about it and affirm that you have done your best and then visualize success. Disconnect and rest your mind and body. Sleep is as important as practice. You got this!

Rosemary Ravinal

Business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to elevate their public speaking impact, executive presence, and media interview skills come to me for personalized attention and measurable results. I am recognized as America’s Premier Bilingual Public Speaking Coach after decades as a corporate spokesperson and media personality in the U.S. mainstream, Hispanic and Latin American markets. My company’s services are available for individuals, teams, in-person and online, and in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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