I advocate something in the middle. I feel both approaches have
their strengths and both approaches can, and should be, woven into
every speech you give.
The real future of speaking, and the direction in which the very
best speakers are moving, is a natural and connected style of
delivery. Yet to be at the top of your game on the platform,
this "natural" delivery is actually a result of planning, training,
coaching and practice.
It's like my tip for being spontaneous on
the platform...you prepare to be spontaneous! You won't arrive at a
powerful, connected style just by winging it.
Unfortunately, memorization can work against a good connected
The result, when most people memorize a speech, is a
speaker stepping on the platform and switching on the autopilot.
It's like they push a button and a robotic speaker begins to recite
the memorized speech.
The speech is accentuated with the precise
gestures of an automaton. The speech is delivered in the exact same
manner that it would be if the room had no audience.
Memorization sets landmines in a speech...you become a slave to the text
Memorization also sets landmines in a speech. A memorized speech
usually sets the expectation that it will be delivered exactly the
same way each time. Miss a word or phrase and it trips you up.
heaven forbid that you should omit a major point! You become a
slave to the text. That's why it's often associated with robotic
delivery. The speaker is more tuned into the script that he or she
is tuned into the audience.
I'm really not against memorization. In fact most of a typical
speech I deliver is memorized. What I don't do is write out the
speech word for word. Not on paper anyway. In a sense I write
it out "in my head" and I put it on tape and play it back.
in considerable time memorizing, I just don't write a manuscript.
I'm going to be speaking out-of-my head, that's where I want the
memory work engraved. I'm not going to be reading the speech.
Certain parts of the speech should be more precisely memorized.
You try to deliver the memorized parts exactly the same each time,
but don't freeze if you deviate a bit. You don't want to be a
prisoner of a script.
The areas that should be memorized are:
- Your opening. It sets the stage and should be well
word-smithed and rehearsed. One of the reasons there are many
fans of memorization is that there is only one best way of saying
something. And you need to spend time determining what that best
phrasing is and memorize it as best you can.
- Your humor, especially the punchline. The setup is very
important; the punchline is critical. Mess up the words and you
may kill the laughs.
- Your transitions. This is an area where I spend most of my
rehearsal time. Great transitions are critical to the flow and
organization of your talk. They help provide the roadmap which
will tie the entire talk together for your listeners.
- Your idea outline. You should have your key-point outline
memorized to the point where you can recite it, item for item, just
as if you were reading it from a note card. This is the only thing
I actually write on paper.
- Your closing. Your call to action is probably the most
important part of the talk. It should be precisely crafted for
So it sounds like I'm recommending memorizing almost the entire
talk? Well, not exactly.
|I'm going to be speaking out-of-my head; that's where I want the
memory work engraved.
In one of my one-hour talks I consider
75% of it NOT memorized. These are the vignettes, the stories, the
points I tell to carry my message to the audience. These important
parts of the talk are delivered in nearly the same words and
gestures every time. But these segments of my talk have never been
scripted or put on paper. I write these key segments only in my
mind. And they are slightly different each time I give them.
try to be in the moment, connected with the audience, and at the
same time relive the experience of the story as I tell it. If my
vignettes were totally written and memorized, I wouldn't be
present...I'd be in the script and not in the room.
When I rehearse before a presentation, I mentally review my idea
outline several times, committing the precise flow of my talk to
memory. I practice my opening and my closing. I review my humor
to make sure the punchlines are fresh in my memory. And I actually
practice my transitions which will move me from one vignette to
another, word for word.
I rarely rehearse out loud. Ninety-five
percent of my rehearsals are mental and use visualization. I
occasionally rehearse contest speeches out loud to get a good feel
My vignettes, I don't practice. I know them. They're my stories.
I've lived them. Although that's not complete accurate. I
practiced them when I originally developed them. And now the
only time I practice the vignettes is when I actually deliver them
before a live audience.
Being in the moment, delivering the
vignettes gives a freshness to them and frequently I find a new,
fun or memorable way of expressing a thought. I capture new lines
in my post-speech critique. Normally I present my key vignettes
frequently enough that this works for me. If I do bring out a
vignette which I haven't presented for quite some time, I do
rehearse it to refresh my memory.
OK, so I do memorize almost my entire talk. I just don't write it
down. Certain parts of the talk I refresh my memorization before
taking the platform. The rest of the talk segments, although set to
memory in the original development phase, are presented in a more
I let the movement and gestures come
organically from the content and the connection with the audience.
And I drive my audience connection with conversational eye contact.
A couple of quick tips on rehearsal and memorization. When you
practice your speech...practice making mistakes. If you stumble
over a word in your opening, don't just start over. Work through
it. Practice recovering from your mistakes. That's what you'll
have to do on the platform. For some ideas on memory techniques,
get a copy of The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne. It's a classic.
Memorize or not? Yes and no. My speeches are mostly
memorized...they're just not written on paper. And although I
want to use the ideal words, I don't handcuff myself to any
specific words. If it doesn't come out exactly as I planned it,
I don't get stressed.
Experiment to see what fits your style. And
select a balance which is right for you and which does not get
between you, your audience and your message.