Yes, the title of this post is “5 Ideas to Help You Remember Your Speech,” but it could have been “Remember Your Story” or even “Remember Your Narrative.” You could be using this speech, story, or narrative at a boardroom meeting, or presenting in front of hundreds of colleagues. You could also be delivering a TED talk or speaking alongside your slides at a Pecha Kucha presentation.
Whatever your presenting style may be, or whoever may be part of your audience, the most important part is for you to not forget what you intend to speak. And that’s probably the biggest fear of public speaking: the fear that you may forget your narrative.
So, here are five ideas that will help you stay in control and remember your speech–and also deliver it with aplomb. Before we explore any of these ideas, let me warn you that there are no shortcuts. All ideas need involvement from you, and all of them require practice time.
1. Forget Rote Memorization; You Need To Understand the Concept
Many newbies believe that memorizing their speech will help them. Their reasoning is simple: they assure themselves that they will get nervous, and at least if they have parrot-like, repeated and remembered the entire speech, they can deliver it, and get done with the whole thing. Once the speech is over, they promise to treat themselves to an expensive dinner or that new phone. The problem is that with rote memorization, they may never be successful, because the audience is perceptive enough to know that the speech was “mugged up”.
Hopefully, the above paragraph did not describe you. Audiences expect you to be a subject-matter expert, and that’s the reason why you were chosen to speak about a particular topic in the first place.
If you memorize every word, audiences may associate you with not being conversant with your content. And that’s unfair, because like most such presenters, you tried to memorize only because you were nervous. You are still the subject-matter expert. The irony is that the audience is not unfair to you, but you have been unfair to yourself.
So, the first important idea is to forget about rote memorization altogether. Only then can the other four ideas help you.
2. Understand Your Content
Many speakers are so attentive to how their slides look, or how their physical appearance is–that they seem to have no time left to understand their content. No, we are not asking you to disregard the appearance of your slides, or ignore your fashion sense! But you need to truly understand rather than remember your content, especially if you are a subject-matter expert.
You truly understand your content only when you know how your audience perceives the content. Yes, as a speaker, you are most certainly biased towards your content, and assume that everyone in the audience understands it exactly like you do! Nothing can be farther from the truth, and this is exactly the same phenomenon that Dan Health and Chip Health termed the curse of knowledge.
Curse of Knowledge?
One of the best books that speaks about how you can help people remember what you speak provides an unexpected bonus: it teaches you how to remember!
Made to Stick, written by Chip and Dan Heath is a must-read. Here are some quotes from the book:
The Curse of Knowledge: when we are given knowledge, it is impossible to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge.
To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”
What if you have an audience that has limited background info about what you are speaking? What if you have assumed that they know more than they actually do? Or you may have a mixed audience, where some people know a fair bit about your concepts, and others know almost nothing. Should you not be aware that such mixed audiences exist so often, and be prepared to face them, and ensure that every person in the audience benefits from your speech, talk, or presentation?
Many speakers are not prepared for such mixed audiences, and get confused and intimidated when they face one. The result is that they get so defensive, so much so that they forget quite a bit of what they wanted to speak about!
So, is there a solution to this problem? Yes, of course, there are many solutions, and these range from practicing all the time to understanding audiences better. Whatever solution you come up with, and however you reorient you message, the important part is that you first need to unlearn a fair amount.
You must now approach your topic and speech from the perspective of the least-informed person in the audience, and present your own content in a way that ensures that everyone understands your concepts. This approach will give you confidence, and confident speakers rarely have problems remembering what they want to speak about.
Wasted Preparations? Never.
Maybe, there won’t be any audience members who need to know any basics. You have been blessed with a well-informed audience, and this typically happens when you have internal discussions or presentations–or when you meet in a small group.
Yet, you must always be prepared for mixed audiences. You may suddenly have a new guest in the audience, or your company may hire a new boss from another business sphere, who not surprisingly wants to know everything–including the basics.
If none of these scenarios occur, you must still be prepared for mixed audiences, and this preparation will certainly help you in many ways.
You can use these ideas to make sure your audience clearly understands your content. In many ways, when you think of ways to make your audience understand better, you do a big favor to yourself too, because this helps you remember so much more, including:
- Understand your audience, so that you can gauge their preparedness to comprehend your basic concepts. If you find that the audience is well-versed with your basic concepts, go ahead as originally planned, and don’t do a longer introduction.
- However, you must still do at least a one-slide or a two-minute introduction to bring your audience to the same page as you, and update their focus.
- Do a quick refresher that explores basic concepts, only if needed. Tell the audience that this refresher is being presented because you have newer members in the audience.
- Never imply that some audience members are less informed than the others! Also, endear yourself to those who don’t need this refresher–reassure them that this refresher is only for reasons of continuity.
- But you will still have to limit this refresher to a few minutes. If anyone in the audience has queries about the refresher, ask them to reach out to you after your talk, or connect with you via email or phone.
- Use plain English. There are so many speakers who love to show their vocabulary skills when delivering a speech, and they end up trying to remember those fancy words, rather than remembering the content of their speech.
- If you use plain English, you won’t have to mug up your content, and you can channel your efforts to make sure that the entire audience understands every word you spoke.
- Try to inform, and not to impress. Your audience wants facts, and not too much more. Yes, a relevant case study or story may help, and that’s good for you too, since little effort is needed to remember anecdotes or stories. Do make your narrative interesting though, by sharing emotions and other aspects such as happiness, fear, silence, and empathy.
3. Create Memory Hooks
We’ve covered so much in this post, and if you worked with the ideas covered so far, you may not even require any more help. But if this is an important speech or presentation, here is another idea that always works–and that is creating memory hooks.
What exactly is a memory hook? A memory hook is typically a single word that lets you recall everything you wanted to say. For example, if your memory hook is 2019, it might mean that you want to talk about your plans for the year 2019.
So, how many memory hooks do you need? You need one memory hook for each larger concept that you need to discuss in your presentation or talk. If you have slides, you can incorporate these memory hooks within your slides by using these guidelines:
- If you are conveying more than one idea in a slide, you need more than one memory hook. You can add your memory hooks in the slide title, or even as subtitles, or not at all, if they call attention unnecessarily.
- If you are conveying one idea per slide, you need just one memory hook. Try adding it in the slide title.
- If you are conveying one idea over multiple slides, then you need one idea for an entire section of slides. In that case, you can add your memory hook on the section’s opening slide.
Choose memory hooks that are easy to remember. You should rather use words not used frequently in your vocabulary, such as enigma rather than using words such as secret. Such words ensure that you don’t associate them too widely with many concepts. Also, try to choose memory hook words that begin with vowels, and I’ll tell you why you need to do so in the next section.
For now, make sure you have memorable memory hooks chosen for all your ideas. Restrict your ideas to a maximum of seven! Why seven? Because if you choose more than seven memory hooks, you may complicate this entire system, which works best when you embrace simplicity. Remember, even if you have seven memory hooks that represent seven ideas, you really have only one larger idea! These smaller ideas are just components of the larger idea.
4. Link Your Memory Hooks
Now that you have created memory hooks, write down your memory hooks on a piece of paper. Let us imagine that my memory hooks for a presentation or talk consisted of these six words:
Now, as you can see, it is quite easy to make a connecting word from these memory hooks. If I take the first character of each of my memory hooks, I end up with the common word, Sacred. Now you know, why I asked you to choose some memory hooks that start with vowels. Doing so allows you to end with a word that is easily pronounced, and thus more easily remembered!
Make it a habit to use your memory hooks, even while practicing, and when you go ahead and actually deliver your presentation, you will be sure to remember all your ideas. Now that you have no worries about forgetting your main ideas, you can concentrate on other aspects of delivering your presentation or talk!
Yes, you have to deliver your content. This final stage represents the fruition of everything you began with.
It’s important that you are not too worried at this point in time. I won’t suggest too many thoughts now, except that you must enjoy your presentation or talk, and also enjoy the company of your audience. Your audience always wants you to succeed, and that’s the reason they come to hear you!
Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional), and has been designing and training with PowerPoint for more than two decades. He heads Indezine, a presentation design studio and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India.
Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements–these elements include abstract elements like story, consistency, and interactivity — and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. He explains how these elements work together in his training sessions. He has also authored six books on PowerPoint and Microsoft Office.