To Memorize or to Not: A Public Speaker’s Dilemma

Power of the mind to memorize a speech

When you’re asked to deliver a speech or a presentation, this question may come to your mind often – should I try and memorize my entire speech?

Whether to memorize the speech or not is a personal choice but usually memorization often makes the speech look robotic and less genuine. To avoid this, one can try to understand the outline of the speech instead of word for word memorization. This will help you sound more genuine and at ease while delivering your speech.

Speakers have been debating this for a while. I personally have tried both – some speeches are memorized to the T while for others I simply know the outline of what I want to say. But in most cases, I prefer not memorizing. Here’s why:

What is the Problem With Memorizing a Speech?

Memorizing your speech is not a bad thing. In fact, if you can memorize your speech, you should! We’ll talk more about this later. But the problem with memorizing is that if you haven’t memorized your speech well enough, there is a high chance of screwing up.

Here’s the thing, when we memorize, we’re counting on remembering our entire speech word by word. If we forget a sentence or two when we are on stage, it can be disastrous since we’re counting on one sentence to know the next!

An extensive article on How to Prepare for a Speech When You Have No Time to Prepare? has been written to help you with more such tips.

What to do Instead of Memorizing a Speech?

Prepare a Skeleton of Your Speech

Familiarize. Don’t memorize. Instead of memorizing your entire speech word for word, just create an outline of what you want to say.

This is kind of like “chunking” – a common technique speakers use to memorize their speeches. Break your speech down into chunks and create a skeleton of your speech instead of writing it out word for word.

For example, you may start off with an introduction into your topic, state the problem, move on to an anecdote ending with a solution and a call to action.

Have certain key points or “trigger words” for each of these chunks. It can be a great way for familiarizing yourself with the speech.

Visualize Your Speech

Creating mental images of the words to memorize the speech.

We tend to remember images better than words – you must have heard this before. So when you create a skeleton version of your speech each with its own trigger words, try creating a mental image of those trigger words.

This will help you create a mental picture of the entire flow of your speech. You can keep visualizing these images during routine tasks throughout the day to keep familiarizing yourself with the speech.

This might be a little hard to explain so let me give you an example.

This one time I was delivering a talk on music, on how music affects us emotionally in more ways than we think. The skeleton version of my speech went something like this – the power of music, music has been affecting us even before we were born, the role music has played in my life, why music is a reliable confidant, how we should approach music in today’s world.

The skeleton might come off as a little random to a second person, but it helped me familiarize myself with the speech.

Anyways, with each of the sub-topics, I attached a mental image to each of them – ‘the power of music’ was associated with epic rock concerts, ‘music has been affecting us even before we were born’ was associated with lullabies and so on.

When I was showering, eating or commuting, I would just play these images in my mind on repeat. It was much to remember this way rather than memorize the speech word for word.

Talk About Real Experiences in Your Speech

When we talk about real-life experiences, those that we have personally been through or those that we have personally witnessed, it becomes easier to remember the speech as opposed to when we talk about facts or stories that we are not personally involved in.

The reason for this is obvious – when we talk about personal experiences, we don’t have to memorize anything, we are already familiar with what has happened so it becomes easier to deliver the talk.

When writing your speech, try and include real-life experiences along with whatever message you want to communicate. It will reduce the pressure of memorizing and help you deliver more naturally.

See What Comes Naturally to You

To make your speech delivery look authentic, it has to be authentic. When you’re practicing your speech, don’t stick to the script!

If some words or phrases are coming naturally, add them in. At the same time, if you feel anything is not feeling natural to you, cut it out!

Sometimes, when we are writing a speech, we might use language which is suitable for writing but not so much for speaking. When practicing, try and gauge what is working/not working and edit your talk accordingly.

Practice and Practice some more!

Visualizing, chunking are all techniques to help familiarize yourself with your speech. It is not a substitute for actually practicing your speech.

No matter how much or how little time you have, practice your speech! There is no defined number of times you should practice your talk. It’s quite subjective depending on the length of your talk, how long you have to practice and so on.

You can read this article to learn more about practicing your speech. Just remember practice is key. Practice enough until your so familiar with your content that you can focus more on delivery.

To learn more about ways to practice your speech check out our article on Surprisingly Simple But Effective Processes to Practicing for a Speech.

If You Do Have Time to Memorize, Memorize!

While memorizing a speech is not recommended, there have been times when I have completely memorized my talk word for word…and it’s turned out great!

The thing is, memorizing, when done right, can help us internalize a speech so thoroughly that it comes out as something that is completely natural. When I memorize each word, I know how to use my body and voice at every point in my speech.

There is no room for error. I gesture at exactly the right time, I know exactly when to modulate my tone and everything flows with predictable smoothness.

But here’s the thing, this only works when I actually have a lot of time to practice: at least 12-15 days (or even more). Without the required time, memorizing a speech can be more harmful than useful, which is why most people recommend to familiarize yourself with the content instead of memorizing it.

However, if you do have the time and are comfortable with memorizing, don’t hold back! Memorize everything – each word, how you will say it, where you will look when you say it, what expression will your face hold, when to go fast, when to go slow – make it foolproof!

How to Memorize a Speech?

Write Down the Speech Word for Word

Start by writing down your entire speech word for word. The sheer act of writing what you plan on saying will help your brain absorb and remember most of your speech.

Read it Out Loud

After you’ve written your speech, read it out loud. The reason for this is that when we write, we tend to write words and phrases that sound good on paper when they are read. But they might not sound very appealing when spoken to an audience.

Reading it out loud will help you identify areas in your speech which can be tweaked to make it more suitable for a speech.

Hold the Notes and Speak in Front of a Wall or Mirror

Now it’s time to integrate body language and voice modulation. While holding the written speech in your hand, start saying it out loud to a wall or mirror as if you’re actually addressing an audience.

The purpose of this exercise is to understand when and where will you be using what part of your body along with the tone of voice. Choose where you want to commit a hand gesture, or where you want to go extremely loud, or where you want to pause and let the silence linger.

Doing this multiple times will be a much more effective way to learn and memorize not just the words of your speech but how you will deliver it as well.

This works much better than sitting down, reading a part of your speech, closing your eyes and repeating the same part until you have it memorized. Such a technique is completely rubbish in my opinion!

Memorize in a manner where you can practice and learn everything, not just your content. That way, you’re entire speech delivery will be flawless!

Don’t Worry about Perfection

That being said, don’t worry too much about being perfect. You don’t need to have every word memorized down to the T. When you’re practicing, if you feel certain words and phrases are not coming out exactly right but are still making sense, just continue!

If you try too hard to stick to the exact words you’ll over-stress yourself and have a good chance of forgetting a few words on stage.

Practice in a Super-fast Pace

This comes at a slightly later stage after you have done the ‘practice-in-front-of-wall’ exercise. Practicing just the content of your speech in a super-fast pace is a great way to test your brain. It will help you point out gaps that your brain has still not been able to fully memorize in the flow of your speech.

Don’t worry about whether you’re sounding like you’ve memorized your speech or not. Memorizing your speech in a manner that uses body language and voice modulation will not make your speech sound memorized, it will make you look prepared.

How Long Does it Take to Memorize a Speech?

A speech that is 1-2 minutes long might take about 30 to 45 minutes to memorize, including the writing of the speech as well as the repeated practices. However, this is entirely subjective and depends on the person’s memory and grasping power. 

If a speech is long, as in 10 minutes, then it might take a little longer. It is advisable to prepare a few days in advance for a 10-minute long speech. In order to be thorough with the speech, an ideal time of 5 days should be enough to memorize a speech that is 10 minutes long. 

Keep in mind to not keep long speeches for the last minute.

How to Memorize a Speech Overnight?

Memorizing a speech overnight might seem difficult but it’s not! Apart from the above mentioned tips, there are a few other tips to be kept in mind if you have limited time to prepare.

1. Write or Type-up Your Speech

Start by writing or typing your speech as mentioned above. This will help you in memorising the main key points that you wish to deliver.

2. Rehearse in front of a Friend

Practice your speech in front of a friend or a family member. This will help you understand your voice modulation, pauses and what areas of speech you would like to focus on. 

Moreover, also try incorporating the feedback that you receive from your friend. Feedbacks always help you improve!

But what if you are not around a friend? Well, then the next point is for you!

3. Record a Video

In order to be thorough with the contents of your speech, try practicing it as much as possible. Recording a video of you delivering the speech often serves as a good way to learn more about the areas of improvement.

You can also send this recorded video to your friends and family members, asking them for their feedback.  

4. Memory Palace Technique

If your speech is too long and consists of a variety of different topics, it might be a little difficult to memorize everything. This is when you can use the memory palace technique. 

In this technique, split your topics into bullet points. After this, try associating every bullet point to an object. By doing this, it is easier to remember the topics of your speech. Hence, the number of bullet points is equal to the number of objects.

For instance, if you are giving a speech on the topic India’s 74th Independence Day. By using the memory palace technique, I will associate the subtopic of India’s freedom struggle to the seats in front of the stage. Furthermore, the topic of India’s growing prosperity can be associated with the stage curtain and so on. 

Here, I have tried associating the topics to objects on and around the stage. You can try and associate objects from your room or kitchen as well!

5. Get Enough Rest

To give a flawless speech, it is important for your brain to rest and for your body to take a break. Take enough sleep before the presentation. Also, taking proper meals and hydrating your body is also important to memorize your speech. 

If you want to learn more about how to prepare for a speech without having enough time to prepare, read our article on How to Prepare for a Speech When You Have No Time to Prepare?

Apps for Memorizing Speeches?!

In case you didn’t know, there are apps for memorizing speeches. Amazing?! Isn’t it?
Here, we’ve listed a few apps that might help you with memorizing your speech.

1. Learn Your Lines

This app uses 3 modes of memorization. The ‘Read Mode’ helps you to listen and repeat the lines whereas the ‘Memorize Mode’ blurs out certain parts of the text to test your knowledge and the ‘test’ part allows you to perform your lines which are assessed by the app. 

This app is totally free and also has a good ranking. However, there are certain complaints of redoing the entire thing if there is a typo. This is an iOS app and can be downloaded by clicking on the following link. 

Here’s the link to download the app. 

2. Memorize Lines By Heart

If you find games as a good way to deal with line retention, this could be a solid match for you. This app takes your lines and blacks out certain words until you know the entire piece by heart. 

It’s like putting together a puzzle! All you have to do is import a file in the PDF format and choose how many words you want to hide. There is also an option to set the pace of scrolling of the article. 

However, there are some purchases to be made if this app is downloaded. 

Click here to download the app.

3. Memorize By Heart

This app is for all the android users out there! This app helps you in memorizing your text by various games and activities. After selecting the text which is to be learnt, the app gives you sometime to read it by yourself. 

After completing this, comes the round of scrambled sentences where you are supposed to reorder the jumbled sentences. Next is the round of missing letters and words, where you have to identify the word. 

The memorization doesn’t stop here and now, there is an interesting activity where you have to type out the first letter of the consecutive word, helping you to memorize the content better. 

The next step involves an audio of the selected text as many people remember better by hearing. Lastly, the app asks you to speak your speech and gives a score, which is the difference between what you said and what is correct. 

With an average of 4.5 rating, the app proves to be quite helpful. The premium version of the app also involves more games such as multiple choice questions.

Click on the link to download this app.

Be it a presentation or a conference meeting, you can now sound confident with these apps helping you give a killer speech. 

How to Memorize a Speech in Another Language?

1. Make Sure You are Familiar with the Language

Before giving a speech in a foriegn language, it is important to make sure that you are familiar with the language. Not knowing the language at all can be risky and there are chances of you screwing up.

In case you are not very familiar with the language, make sure to be around a person who knows the language well enough. This will help you with your pronunciations. Moreover, it will also be beneficial if you can practice in front of that person. 

2. Using the Repetition Technique

By repeating the words/ sentences, your brain will start absorbing words from the new language, making it easier to grasp. 

3. Spaced Repetition Technique

This technique uses flashcards as a way of remembering new words / sentences in the foriegn language. Research by Hermann Ebbinghaus has shown that by spreading our study sessions, we can learn more vocabulary.

This technique involves keeping the word to be learnt on one side whereas a translation flashcard  on the other side. 

4. Practice Daily

Giving speech in a foreign language can be tricky and hence, one should practice as often as possible.

Is it Ok to Read a Speech?

If you’re really strained on time, don’t panic. Just follow the above steps so you have an idea of what you are going to say.

You can then carry a summary of your speech in bullet points up on stage and read them out as well.

Unless there is a rule in the place you are speaking at that you absolutely cannot use notes, don’t hesitate to carry them on stage.

If you feel that this may make you look like a less credible speaker, think about it this way – it’s better to read your speech as opposed to going up on stage without notes and forgetting what to say mid-way.

This, however, does not mean you take your entire speech up there and read it word for word. That will kill your audience’s attention and make you sound robotic.

Just carry a few cards or one paper with bullet points of your speech. Let the notes be as a guide to you, don’t let the notes be the entire speech.

As you go through the points, elaborate on them as per your understanding. Many great speakers take notes up with them before big speeches, but they don’t read them word for word. You still have to use your voice and body to communicate the message that you are supposed to.

If and when you do take notes with you on stage, ensure that they are written in a big font. You shouldn’t have to strain your eyes to understand what you have written. One quick glance should be enough to know what your next point is.

While you might be struggling with this debate on memorizing, just remember that as long as you are confident in the message you are delivering, the exact words can be improvised. Many times we want to make our speech just perfect, and we feel we should have everything planned out and memorized. If that is possible, then do it! But in most cases, it’s best to know what you want to say, why you’re saying it and, with a little bit of practice, the how will follow.

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