Should You Memorize Your Presentation?

One of the biggest fears in public speaking is this, "What if I forget my presentation?" Should you memorize the entire thing? Should you memorize parts of it? Or should you go and wing it? Keep reading to find out.

 

If you prefer audio only, you can listen to the full episode on my podcast below or on iTunes.

The way I see it, there are only four ways you can go about your presentation.

1. Write out your entire speech and read it word for word.

Is this a good way to give a presentation? No, absolutely not, because when you’re reading from a paper, even though you aren’t going to make a mistake or forget anything, you also won’t make a connection with your audience. Reading your speech will never allow you to truly make an impact on your audience because you have to engage with your audience in order to have the greatest impact on them, and the only way you can engage with your audience is if you’re talking to your audience. If you aren’t looking at your audience, if you're not making eye contact and you're reading the whole time, you will never ever connect with your audience in a truly authentic way.

2. Wing it.

This is not something that we introverts, ever do. No introvert in their right mind would ever try to go onstage unprepared. One of our strengths as an introvert is that we do think things through, right? We like to prepare. Winging it, is not the way we usually go about things. And if you do decide to wing it completely unprepared, you risk ruining the relationship with your audience because if you aren’t prepared you probably haven’t thought things through well enough. If you’re just winging it, you don't think about the flow or logical progression of your presentation. You don't think of what to say and how to say it to make the biggest impact on your audience. And very often those unprepared presentations fall completely and totally flat.

But you might say, "Well, I've seen a speaker who wasn't prepared, who was asked to give an impromptu speech and he just got up and walked on stage and was wonderful." Well, let me tell you, even though it didn’t look like that speech was prepared and rehearsed, that speaker probably spent years thinking through the things that he was saying on stage. He probably spent years gathering knowledge. He probably spent years figuring out how to put his ideas in the best words, how to tell the best stories to go with that concept, how to engage the audience in the best way. So even though it looks like it hasn't been prepared and rehearsed, believe me, it has been.

3. Memorize your entire presentation word-for-word.

There are definitely speakers who memorize their presentations. An example that comes to mind is Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big magic. We can probably all agree that Elizabeth Gilbert is an amazing writer, and Oprah invited her to come and give a speech at one of her Mega events. This Mega event was even a series of events not just one presentation, and Elizabeth Gilbert, of course, took it seriously. When Oprah calls you and invites you to speak, you take it seriously. She had six months to prepare. She spent the first two months writing out her speech. She made it absolutely perfect, and then she spent the other four months memorizing it.

This will probably only work for you if you have a lot of time to prepare and if you're great at memorization. If you like to memorize things and you have tons of time, maybe this is the way you’ll want to go. I personally would not recommend it, particularly if you don't have a lot of time to prepare, because if you think you memorized your speech but you go on stage and forget something then all of a sudden your whole flow breaks. You can’t just continue because you forgot what comes next, because you only remember your speech word-for-word. It's kind of like if you have a house that's being built and you pull out one brick, all of a sudden that whole wall collapses, right? It's the same concept. So be very mindful of that. While it does work for some, and again Elizabeth Gilbert is a good example, it may not work for you. So think it through before you decide to go this route.

Another problem with memorizing your speech, is that it may sound robotic because it can be difficult for some people  to sound like they're talking to their audience when in reality they're just reciting what they memorized. So you should also be mindful of that. And if you do decide to go with the whole memorization route, you have to remember to make it sound like you’re talking to your audience. You have to make it sound like you're really coming up with stories right there. That you’re coming up with examples, and that you’re making jokes on the spot. It has to look spontaneous, it has to look effortless.

4. Memorize only the opening, closing, and outline.

This is the way that I recommend. Memorize only three things in your presentation. Specifically, memorize your opinion, your closing, and the outline. Memorizing your opening makes tons of sense  because when you’ve just come on stage, that’s when you're the most nervous. It's not very long, so you know most of us can definitely memorize it. Since this is when you're nervous, this is when you might want to be on auto-pilot, particularly if you're not very experienced. And as you go through your memorized opening all of a sudden you gain confidence and then you can continue.

Memorizing the closing is also a good idea because this is what you leave your audience with. This is also where you can do your call to action. You want it to flow really well and you also want to leave your audience with the most impact that you can produce. So memorizing your ending is a good idea.

And then you will also want to memorize an outline of your presentation, the actual flow of ideas of bullet points, if you’d rather call it that. You want to memorize the order of things and how you're going to progress through your presentation. This includes what you're talking about first, next, next, and next. Once you memorize your flow, your opening and your closing, you are setting yourself up for success. You are going to feel confident on stage. You're going to engage your audience because you are not reading, you are looking at them and you will most likely captivate them with your talk because you thought it through.

I hope you enjoyed this little comparison of four ways to prepare for your presentation. Take care and have a wonderful day!

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