Preparing for major preparations involves a host of tasks that range from simple to fairly complex. Idea formulation as well as crafting words and ideas into a coherent structure can be a challenge to many. Putting together effective presentation decks can also be a major stressor too.
Once the aforementioned is accomplished, the last task is often the most onerous. However, it is one of the most critical steps in delivering powerful, impactful presentations that have the ability to affect change.
What I am referring to of course is presentation memorization. This task is caked with stress as it often takes a fairly large chunk of time. Let me quickly address why you should put effort into this step though!
The Alternatives to Presentation Memorization
The alternatives to presentation memorization, of course, are reading (scripted talks) or “speaking off the cuff” (unscripted talks). However, each approach has limitations.
The Downfalls of Reading→
Listening to a presentation that is being read off sheets, slides, teleprompters or notes is hardly compelling and often kills speaker authenticity. One reason for this is that there is often a big difference between the feeling of words being recited versus how they are actually delivered in a more natural spoken style.When reading, it is much easier to inadvertently fluff over impact words or speed through one’s content, especially when your nerves are raging.
The Downfalls of “Speaking Off the Cuff”→
This style, of course, refers to a speaker simply having a general idea (key points) of what they want to say and committing to addressing them without any type of structure or memorization.
Although this style can come off as very natural and genuine, it also has its own set of drawbacks.
For one, issues of timing can be a problem in this approach. Ensuring that each major point is covered adequately whilst keeping to a schedule can be extremely challenging. Without proper structuring and rehearsal, some points may get an inordinate amount of coverage versus others being rushed or worse–forgotten altogether.
Additionally, casual deliveries may suffer from less than ideal stories being chosen to reinforce ideas.
Also, attempts at humor that may seem appropriate at the time, may actually be completely off-base or disastrous without adequate planning.
Perhaps the most disconcerting issue attached to this approach is that one slip of the mind can easily short-circuit a person’s ability to stay on track and remain emotionally in control. As a whole, this approach is not overly great unless your speaking skills and experience are highly developed. Even then, I would rarely advise this style for major presentations.
An Early Takeaway
“Although there are no set rules for effective presentation delivery, my recommendation in almost all cases for amateur presenters is to be more methodical in terms of prepping for that next big talk.”
“And, in most cases, memorization will be your best bet.”
One Quick Presentation Memorization Disclaimer
It must be acknowledged that there are some speakers and coaches who adamantly rail against presentation memorization. The main reason is often related to an idea referred to as “sounding canned.”
This is when a speaker is giving his or her talk from memory but with the words, feeling and impact devoid of naturalness. The effect is a very artificial robotic sounding. This, of course, destroys authenticity and can create some highly undesirable outcomes such as a loss of trust, as well as ideas themselves becoming dampened.
My response to this would be to defer to one of the foremost presentation experts worldwide on the matter. I am referring to none other than the chief curator of TED, Chris Anderson.
When considering presentation memorization, Chris encourages speakers to be wary of a concept taken from computer animation, “Uncanny Valley.” This idea relates to animators bringing characters to life to the point that the animation is very close to being realistic but something is just a bit off.
When this occurs, the effect, in Chris’ words, is “Creepy.” When something is slightly off in animation this issue can render the final product as something completely unnatural and distracting.
Uncanny Valley and Speaking
If a presenter can remember 80% of his or her content but fails to perfect that last twenty percent, the talk will invariably fail in coming off as “canned” or even worse, awkward.
In not knowing the presentation fully, the speaker will more than likely stay focused on the simple act of remembering words. When this happens a person’s ability to focus on other things like eye contact, spontaneity and body language will be severely hindered. If these aforementioned elements of communication are removed, then so is the naturalness within the talk. The effect, of course, is an awkward and uncomfortable spectacle for all.
Key Presentation Memorization Takeaway
The key to a well-memorized talk is to have it down “all the way.” When this occurs, you can expect to accrue all of the benefits associated with memorization.
Once you know your content inside out, you can focus on the other elements of presentation delivery such as voice, props, slides etc. The first step, however, is powering through to ensure you have fully crossed through “Uncanny Valley.” It is on the other side where your scripted delivery can and will sound completely natural.
How to Master Presentation Memorization?
There are several approaches to do this. However, most involve an exorbitant amount of time, of which, most professionals and entrepreneurs are precisely lacking.
Referring back to Ted’s Chris Anderson, he states that an eighteen-minute talk that succeeds will often require upwards of five to six hours to fully memorize.
*Say what?! Yeah, that is heavy!
Don’t click away just yet though! There is a Presentation Memorization technique that offers to reduce that number by upwards of seventy-five to eighty percent.
Introducing “The Memory Palace”
This is a mnemonic device that has its origins in ancient Greece and was used extensively by Romans for Presentation Memorization. At that time it was referred to “The Method of Loci.” Loci is the plural of “location” in Greek.
The basic crux of this technique is that information can be more easily recalled when it is associated with spatial relationships. If that sounds fuzzy, relax. I’ll break it down into simpler terms in the next section.
A technique that has an evolutionary basis
What makes this memory technique unique is that it fully utilizes our evolutionary strengths as far as tapping into our highly developed capacities relating to spatial memory.
Spatial memory, of course, is the part of memory responsible for recording information about one’s environment and spatial orientation. Hunter-gatherer societies heavily relied on their memories of places as their ability to do so would often translate into flat-out survival or certain death.
As a result of our ancestor’s reliance on this particular aspect of collecting and retaining certain types of memories, our brains evolved to become highly skilled at remembering information when it was paired with places and or other associations.
How to Use “The Memory Palace” in Modern Times
So, let’s say that you have a major presentation that requires you to remember a combination of over 25 key ideas, statistics, and recommendations. The talk is scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes. Sounds daunting right?
It needn’t be. This is what you can do:
Grab Your Outline
Grab hold of your presentation outline and make sure your most important points are covered. Also, underline or identify memorable words that you plan to use as triggers. These words will become visual associations that you can bring to life in your very own Memory Palace.
Select a Location and Path
This should be a place you are very familiar with and offers a clear pathway from one place to another. Think the entrance to your home or office as the starting point and your bedroom or desk as the end-point. Again, this location can be anyplace but make sure you know it very well.
Now that you have a location and path selected, mentally walk yourself through it and focus on the details or things you see or know to be there. For example, this could be the tinted windows of the revolving door at your office, next could be the crack in the floor you step over upon entering. Immediately after, you see the large blue clock hanging on the wall to your right. Make a list of all the key details you encounter along the way to your final destination.
Key Point: These details can be more than visual! Think auditory, physical sensation, taste, olfactory (smell) based details too!
Connect the Details with Ideas
Next, go back to your outline and attach ALL of your key points to all of the details in your Memory Palace starting from the opening of your presentation to the end.
Make them unusual and memorable. The more outlandish the better.
For example, perhaps you want to state early on in your presentation that your company had a 25% reduction in costs last quarter.
Maybe that idea is paired with the clock just inside your office entrance. As you mentally pass through that section, you will turn to see the clock. Your chosen details are that the 1-12 numbers have ALL been replaced with the number 25. Perhaps the clock has hundreds of number 25 digits dripping down to the floor.
Again, the more unusual and wacky the easier the detail will be to remember.
Practice Walking Through Your Memory Palace
This last step simply involves walking your way from the start of your presentation (starting point) of your Memory Palace right on through to the end. Practice seeing, experiencing and feeling each of those details along the way.
Once you run through the entire presentation several times using your very own Memory Palace, you’ll have it and probably won’t need to use it for the actual scripted presentation. That is unless disaster strikes and your mind goes blank. If that occurs, relax!
Simply think back to where that forgotten detail is located in your Memory Palace.
Things ought to come back to you very quickly!
Admittedly, this may take a bit of time initially. Perhaps an hour to two for a 15 to 20-minute keynote talk. However, compare that to TED’s Chris Anderson’s estimate of 5-6 hours.
Efficacy and Relevancy?
For reference, one Japanese man used this technique to recall over 111,700 digits relating to Pi. At a live event, it took him over sixteen hours to correctly recall over 100,000 digits. His secret? You guessed it. The Memory Palace. He has over eight hundred stories he uses to help trigger his memory.
Also, just to be clear, there have been scientific studies which have also backed the efficacy of this approach as well. I highly recommend checking out this one which was performed by Stanford University.
Summing things up:
Memorizing is a critical component of presentation success
*It must be done all the way!
*Line by line memorization can take several hours.
*The Memory Palace approach can dramatically cut your presentation memorization prep time down.
*In taking less time on rote memorization, more time can be spent on other aspects of your presentation.
There you have it. I challenge you to be innovative. Do things differently than you have in the past. Get creative and build your own Memory Palace for your next big presentation.
Grab the free Memory Palace resource guide to get started!
I would love to hear how you make out! You can reach out by finding and following us on these platforms:
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