M is for Memorizing

Don't memorize

Don’t memorize, familiarize! – Readers Digest

There are many schools of thought about whether a person should memorize their speech or use notes.  For me, trying to memorize a speech and recite it from memory is a recipe for disaster.  I usually lose my place, and if I don’t have notes to refer to, the panic I experience ensures a further loss of memory of my speech content.  I’m not saying never memorize your speech. Some people can memorize and recite a speech with little problem.  If a person is competing in a speech competition, such as the Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking contest, the speech is usually memorized to a point it is almost rote.  But in MOST circumstances, being familiar with your talk and referring to notes is a happy medium between memorizing a speech and reading a speech.  

 I say, if any part of a speech should be memorized, it should be the opening and close.  This is discussed further in the page titled,  “O is for Opening and Closing your Speech”   A friend of mine successfully coaches speakers to memorize the opening and close of a presentation and be familiar with the middle.

The dangers of reading your speech

  • It’s boring, boring, boring.
  • Most folks can’t read aloud without stumbling over words.
  • Many get lost when they look up and then look back at the text.
  • Communication is between the speaker and the text, not between the speaker and the audience.
  • There is little of no eye contact.  
  • There are no dynamics. It’s wooden. Often it is read too fast.
  • Reading a speech well can be more challenging than speaking extemporaneously.
  • You cannot monitor audience feedback so you can make subtle (or not so subtle) adjustments in your presentation.

Dangers of memorizing your speech  

Memorizing your speech can be  even worse than reading it. All the objections that apply to reading a speech can also apply to the memorized speech.

  • Spontaneity is gone.
  • It’s stilted.
  • Often delivery is too rapid.
  • Concentration is on the words, not the ideas.
  • Sometimes it sounds too formal, like a written essay

I love this explanation from a speech teacher (I do not have the name of this wise individual)  as to why you don’t want to memorize your speech:

…Worst of all, if your mind goes blank or if you make a mistake or a member of the audience interrupts, the whole presentation falls apart and extreme speech anxiety sets in.  Your heart begins to pound, you begin to sweat blood, your knees shake, your stomach rejects your dinner, and you would feel much better off if you were dead. This is where, I as a speech teacher, am asked, “Can I start over?” This is analogous to the novice musician who has to stop and repeat when making a mistake while practicing. A professional musician, on the other hand, doesn’t stop. Time and music are linear. So is a speech.

 Pretty eloquent and strong statement about memorizing a speech, isn’t it? So what’s the solution? Practical use of notes!

Use of NotesUsing Notes

117 Ideas for Better Business Presentations by Tom Kirby offers excellent information on use of notes:

  • Most speeches that are read word for word are painfully boring unless you have a professional speech writer and a good coach to help you with the delivery.
  • Opt for a topic outline or key phrase script if possible.
  • If every single word of your talk must be exact (for legal purposes for instance), have it typed in the biggest typeface you can find. Have it typed with only five or six words per line, so you can read it easily without having to keep your eyes glued to the paper. Don’t let sentences spill over to the next page. Use one hand to keep your place in the script and keep the other hand free for appropriate gestures. Otherwise, there’s nothing for the audience to watch but a talking head.
  • If you lose your place, pause for a second, then go back and repeat the last sentence. (The audience will think you’re doing it for a dramatic effect.)
  • Slide note pages to the side as you go to the next page. This will reduce the distraction of turning pages (a constant reminder to the audience that you are reading instead of talking to them.)
  • If possible, even if most of your remarks are written verbatim, try to incorporate at least one incident, illustration, example or story that you can tell in your own words. It doesn’t need to be something that is memorized. Even a few moments of unrehearsed conversation with your audience will break the monotonous spell of reading to them.
  • The biggest danger in speaking from notes or an outline is losing track of time. Have you noticed how many times you’ve heard speakers get carried away with the first point of a five- point talk and have to rush to cover the other points? Try organizing your talk around the specific examples or evidence you plan to use rather than ad-libbing about the topic heading.
  • Print notes or outlines in large letters with colorful marker pens. Even if you wear glasses, you won’t have to strain to pick up your next point.
  • Use one page or individual index card for each point in your presentation. This will help you stay on the specific point. When you go to the next page or card, pause briefly to give the audience a chance to absorb the information you’ve just given them.
  • If you use a direct quotation in your presentation, hold up the card or page you’re reading from, so they can see that you’re reading. This is one time you want to make it clear that you are reading: it adds authority to the quote. Make it clear whom you’re quoting and where you got it.
  • Use short phrases or keywords rather than complete sentences. The phrases and keywords will serve as memory joggers, but won’t restrict you to an exact sentence that might not flow naturally during your live talk.
  • Use a color code such as a red dot to indicate when you have planned to introduce a visual. It’s a good idea to have a miniature version of your visuals incorporated into your notes so you can introduce them with smooth transitions.


From Readers Digest

When King Charles II was asked why he didn’t memorize his speech or even use speech notes. Instead, he read his speeches before parliament. He answered, “I have asked them so often and for so much money, I am ashamed to look them in the face.” 

While it isn’t a good idea to memorize a speech, there are benefits to improving the capacity to recall – especially in the arena of public speaking.


Renee Brokaw offers excellent insights as to whether to memorize or read a speech


Image Source:  Pixabay.com

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