Should You Memorize Your Presentation?

May 24, 2018

You have a big event coming up where you're supposed to speak and you're all stressed out over the biggest what if of public speaking: What if I forget my speech onstage? Well, should you memorize the speech or should you not?

There are really only four ways you can go about your speech. Number one, you can write out your whole speech word for word and read it. I can't believe I just said that, but there are still some people who do it. Absolutely no. Do not do that. That's the worst thing you can possibly do with your speech, because even though you're going to say it word for word and you're not going to make a mistake and you won't forget anything because you're reading, it's a waste of everybody's time. It's a waste of your time. It's a waste of your audience's time. You will never, ever connect to and captivate your audience by looking at your paper. Nobody connects to you when all they can see is the top of your head. Big, big no.

Way number two: Wing it. It sounds crazy, but I know a few people who do it. Any time they have to give a speech, they just wing it. And honestly, maybe it does work for people who are, I don't know, professional standup comedians or do open mics routinely, but for the rest of us, winging it may not be the ideal solution. First of all, when you try to wing it, most likely you will make mistakes, for example you'll forget something. Second, you will probably not be as logical, as compelling, as captivating as if you actually prepared and thought your presentation through. And thirdly, very often when you wing it, your audience can actually tell that you're not prepared. The problem with that is that now they're thinking that you're wasting their time. Why didn't you think this through? Why are you going back and forth? We've all sat through those speeches where you're just trying to understand where the speaker is going with this because it's purely all over the place. And some of you may ask, "But I've seen a speaker who was asked to go and give a speech spontaneously and he or she was amazing and just gave this impromptu speech without being prepared." But let me tell you, most likely even though it was a spur of the moment speech, there have been years of preparation for it. There have been years of knowing the material, learning the material, learning to speak, learning to present, learning how to engage the audience, learning how to be onstage. Really great professionals make it look effortless. Don't mistake somebody who is effortless onstage, winging it, for not being prepared. They probably are.

Number three: Memorize the entire speech. Now, it may sound like a great idea to some. It may sound crazy to others. But hear me out. Very recently, I've been listening to an interview of Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. She was interview by Marie Forleo and it was a wonderful, wonderful interview and there was just a little tiny pice of it that was about public speaking where Elizabeth was talking about receiving an invitation from Oprah to talk at her mega event. And when you get an invitation from Oprah, you take it very, very seriously and you prepare. And so for six months, six months, Elizabeth Gilbert has been working on her speech. For about two months she's been writing it and rewriting it and rewriting it. Now that comes easy to her, she is an incredible writer. But then for four months, she's been memorizing it. She would go for a five mile walk every single day and as she was walking, she would be going through her speech in her head. And by the time she was giving that presentation in front of thousands and thousands of people, she was ready. She knew it by heart, she absolutely memorized it, down to her bones pretty much. And she was incredible onstage. Here is my problem with memorizing the speech. Unless you really are spending six months working on it, you probably won't memorize it as well as you think. And the worst thing that can possibly happen onstage is you going in with a memorized speech and then you forget something and you're drawing a complete blank. You take one brick out, the whole building collapses because you didn't memorize the logic of it, the outline of it. You memorized every single word. You memorized your presentation word for word. Another reason why memorizing could be bad is it may end up sounding very robotic. It may not sound genuine. It may not sound sincere.

And way number four. Memorize the outline only. Now this is how it works: You memorize the flow, the logic, the outline of your presentation. You memorize the skeleton of your presentation. Which means if you forget something, that's okay, because you remember point number one, point number two and point number three that you need to make. So if you forget to say something in point number one, you just move on to point number two and you continue going and you make it look seamless and effortless and it doesn't look like you made a mistake. Now, you probably also want to memorize your opening and your closing. The reason you want to memorize your opening is because this is when you are the most stressed on stage. When you just come out on stage, this is when you're the most nervous. And probably memorizing those first three or five sentences is not a bad idea. So memorizing the first few sentences and then memorizing the last few sentences. You always want to close on a very strong note. You always want to drive your point across. You always want to have your call to action and it will probably be a lot easier if you just memorized your ending. It will probably come out smoother. But the middle of it, the bulk, the biggest chunk of your presentation, you do not memorize. You only memorize the skeleton of your speech.

Now which way do I prefer? Definitely, definitely number four. Now tell me in the comments which way of preparing for your speech do you prefer? Is it number one, reading from the paper? Number two, winging it? Number three, memorizing your whole speech word for word? Or number four, just memorizing the outline?

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