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.
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.
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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Like the body, your brain responds positively to regular exercise. Lumosity, a virtual brain workout developed by neuroscientists, delivers up bite-sized games online or via smartphone app, and is designed to strengthen different skills, from vocabulary to spatial awareness, memory and attention. (online – subscribe from £3.74 per month, app iOS - free)
BBC Brainsmart provides a selection of memory training games and techniques to help you boost facial recognition, memorize shopping lists and even manage stress levels, which can also adversely affect memory.
Math Workout is an app designed for adults and children alike that sets daily number challenges to help you improve your numeracy and sharpen your mind at the same time. (Android, iOS - Free/£0.69)
Research shows that physical exercise is good for memory, getting the oxygen flowing to your head and increasing neurotransmitter levels. The Jawbone UP wristband helps you stay active by monitoring your daily exercise, sleep and diet routines, and syncs with your smartphone to let you track your progress. You can even set your wristband to vibrate to remind you to get moving if you’ve been vegging-out for too long. (Jawbone UP - £99.99 for the hardware, syncs with Android and iOS apps)
When all else fails, write everything down. Evernote lets you keep all of your scribbling in one place as well as take pictures, record audio and save your favorite web pages. You can sync the app to any of your devices to create some pretty sturdy memory backup. (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone - Free)
The Life Reminders app lets you set reminders for daily tasks and meetings, enter your contacts to schedule calls with one click and time your emails to go out when you need them to. It’s much cheaper than the long-form hack of a personal assistant, although that said… (Android - free)
With more of us working remotely than ever, our personal assistants have hopped online too. You may never meet your VA, but they are just an email or a phone call away and can manage all the usual tasks, including organising your diary, setting reminders and even doing your shopping online. VAs are usually freelance and will often only charge you for the time you use or purchase in advance. (Rates vary, hourly services available)
Flashcards remain a popular tool for memorising lots of facts fast and there are plenty of apps available to save you the pain of deciphering your own handwriting. Flashcards + lets you create your own custom flashcards or import existing sets via Quizlet. (iOS - free)
Another memory cheat here. The Memeto is a wearable camera that takes a photo automatically every 30 seconds, recording the time and place as it goes. When you plug the camera into your computer it will automatically upload photos to cloud storage and uses image algorithms to organise your photos into ‘moments', to remind you how your day went. If the prospect of photographing your whole life freaks you out, you could try something less intrusive, like Find It! a simple spot the difference photo app designed to help you improve your attention and boost your visual memory recall. ( Memoto - $279 for the hardware, syncs with Windows / Mac iOS / Android) (Find It! - Android - Free)
Research has shown that a bad night’s sleep can seriously affect your memory. Downloading the Sleepcycle app to your smart phone and then popping it under your pillow allows you to record and monitor the quality of your sleep. The app includes a 30 minute alarm window that will wake you during your lightest sleep phase, leaving you feeling more refreshed. (iOS - £1.49)
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