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Memorizing Your Next Presentation Can Sabotage Your Efforts

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Have you noticed the difference between a presenter who has memorized their presentation word for word and one who riffs off key points?

There is a big difference. In fact, it's obvious. The first sounds like the speaker is reading from a script and the delivery is stilted -- a little too slick. The latter sounds confident, relaxed and strangely more in control than the presenter who has memorized their script verbatim.

In short, you shouldn't memorize your presentations. I've made a case for it already, and here a few more reasons why:

If you forget one word, yes, just one word, you will look like a deer in headlights as your mind goes blank at the podium. You'll stumble and search in vain for that one elusive word. It will derail your presentation, and it will be obvious to your audience that you're fumbling.

Take into account, too, that memorizing an entire presentation is onerous. For many of us mere mortals who aren't gifted with a photographic memory, it takes a significant investment of your time to memorize an entire presentation word for word.

The best presenters don't memorize each word, they memorize their key points and use these points as markers to talk from freely. These speakers also learn their opening hook by heart along with a variation of a closing segment that often includes a call to action.

If you're swayed to go off-script for your next presentation and you're ready to stop memorizing each word, here are five simple steps to help you remember your presentation from key points only.

Intent and Audience Takeaways
Begin by building your presentation with your purpose in mind. Write this on a yellow sticky note and keep it near. Refer back to it often. Then consider, what do you want your audience to learn, think or do?

Write this statement on another yellow sticky note. Now prove your statement with three to five proof points. Once you've established your proof points, build out each one with supporting facts and arguments. You now have the skeleton for your presentation.

Connect the Dots with Stories
Attach stories and analogies to your proof points and supporting elements. For example, when I'm speaking at an event about presentation skills, I'll share stories of times when my speeches had glitches, along with what I did during and after to improve.

Personal stories are easy for you to recall, and not only will this aid you in remembering your content, but it also adds interest for the audience and helps them relate to you.

To Script or Not to Script
Even though I'm in favour of not memorizing your speech, if you are new to speaking you may want to write a loosely crafted script to help you become comfortable with your content. For those more seasoned presenters, it's your call -- it may not be necessary.

If you choose to create a script, after practicing through a few times, go back and pick out the key points again, writing them down on notecards. Working through this process helps to begin integrating your presentation into working memory.

Greek Mnemonics
Now you've decided on your key points, using the following prompt will help you. Attach each key point to something tangible, for example, some people use parts of their body, beginning at the top of their head and working their way down from their shoulders, arms and then on to legs and toes. I do something different.

I practice in my living room and associate each key point with a piece of furniture, moving around the room in a clockwise direction. This type of technique hails back to the times of Greek orators who would use the pillars of temples as memory prompt markers, and it's still an effective technique to use today.

While you practice, remember your intent and audience takeaways. Use these as a point of reference to act as your litmus test to keep your presentation on track.

Take it Out of the Theatre of Your Mind
This may sound obvious, but be sure to practice your speech out loud. Practicing won't help you if you only run through it in your head. It's very different and more reflective of what you'll experience at your live presentation if you practice in your full voice and, as you practice, you'll imprint in your mind the memory of your words.

Each time you practice, expect that your presentation will sound a little different. It shouldn't be static but rather it should evolve through your practice sessions, which helps to craft a speech that flows naturally and sounds relaxed to your audience.

Manage Anxiety
Keep your nerves in check. Nothing will hijack a presentation and block your memory pathways like anxiety; if presentation nerves do take hold, you'll find yourself standing at the podium grasping for your words. There are many techniques out there to help manage this.

Two of those techniques include deep breathing -- taking two deep belly breaths as you reach the podium -- and mindfulness -- becoming aware of your body and the feeling of your feet touching the floor. By managing your nerves, you help to set yourself up for success as you deliver your speech.

You're far better served to speak from key points and have your presentation sound relaxed and off the cuff. Yes, it is a bigger investment of your creativity; however, one that is worthwhile in the difference your audience will see and feel compared to a speech you had memorized word for word.

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