How To Memorize A Speech

Do you have a big presentation coming up and you are wondering how to memorize a speech? Are you about to present to your class or work peers, and you want to own your content even more? Memorizing a speech or presentation is challenging for sure, but you can do it with a little know how.

Decide: Memorize word for word or memorize beats

This is the big choice you need to make. If you are uncomfortable with being front and center, you may feel like verbatim memorization is the best choice for you. If this is you, take a look at how to memorize lines. It gives you great tips on how to learn the content word for word.

Be careful, when you memorize a speech verbatim, you may then end up sounding unnatural when you are presenting. Great presentations and speeches have a conversational quality about them, and that can be easily lost if you don’t know how to deliver memorized lines as well as an actor can.

Memorizing beats

Memorizing beats can be a much more natural way to present. The goal here is to own the logic behind the presentation and the transitions from one section to the next, but not to concern yourself with memorizing exact words. This usually ends up sounding (and feeling) much more conversational and engaging for an audience.

Start by mapping out your speech and the argument behind it. Look for the ideas (beats) that propel you speech forward. That’s the horizontal logic. Then look for the proof points for each of those beats. That’s the vertical logic. Study that logic until you know the real meaning behind your speech and can talk it in your sleep. In doing so, you are memorizing the argument, not just the words which will make your presentation much more powerful and engaging.

Write out an introduction and conclusion and memorize them verbatim

OK – you must be like “Wait a minute, you just said memorize the beats. What gives?” Yes, memorizing the beats will make your speech much more powerful, but memorizing your introduction and conclusion word for word gives you two real advantages:

  1. When your intro is memorized exactly and practiced to the point where it is second nature, you can then use those first few minutes of a speech to calm your nerves, gauge the audience and feel the mood of the room. You can scope out friendly faces that you can play to. You can decide if certain jokes or examples may or may not play well. You can tailor the speech to your audience on the fly.
  2. When your conclusion is memorized to the same level, you don’t have to worry about how to tie everything up. Many novices get trapped in the dreaded “conclusion loop” where they say the same things over and over, not sure how to pull it all together. If you’ve got your conclusion down cold, you don’t need to worry.

Practice on your feet, preferably in the room in which you are presenting

Just like in acting, much of a presentation is about physically owning your material. Your body needs to get used to the idea of presenting and the location of the event. It needs its own form of memorization. Get into the location, or if you can’t, find a place that is similar enough that it can make do. Run through your entire speech multiple times. If you lose yourself in the beats, don’t stop. Push through and find a way to continue. Remember where you faltered, work out the beat problem and then run through it again. Soon you will master that presentation and give the speech of your lifetime.

If you need to, use cue cards for the beats

If you are getting stuck in certain places with your speech, you can rely on cue cards (index cards). But use them properly. Don’t write out every verbatim word you want to say in your speech. You will get lost in those cue cards guaranteed. Instead, write out the horizontal and vertical logic bullet points that make up your beats. This will help you keep track of your speech in a format that’s much easier to follow, even with a few butterflies.