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How can you memorize your presentation?

When we prepare a speech, especially when there are stakes involved, we would like to free ourselves from our notes in order to give a fully open sincere and committed speech.  Last week we saw how presentation notes can play their support role effectively. Today we will discuss memory techniques that will help you be more connected with your audience.

To the most enterprising among you, who decide to learn everything by heart, be careful. Knowing the text will free you from your notes, but there is a strong chance that it will distance you from your audience.  You have everything to gain by expressing your ideas rather than individual words. In learning by heart, you are in fact focusing on words. And sharing a text learned by heart with sincerity is a very difficult exercise!  However, you may have already given the same presentation several times. In this case, you understand that we get to know the sequence of slides, the transitions and the playing out of our ideas perfectly well. It is extremely nice to feel so free in these cases. We haven’t learned the text by heart. But the repetition has helped us anchor the presentation’s structure and the way our remarks, our voice, our body and our visual aids interact with one another. When we talk about memorizing the presentation, this is what we mean.

This exercise may seem complicated; yet, when we communicate about something dear to our heart, it’s pretty easy for us to remember. It becomes effortless to talk about sometimes long and complex issues, either with a funny story or with an anecdote.  We may need a few seconds to remember the key steps in the sequence of events and the punch line. But very quickly we are able to talk about our idea in several minutes, without notes, without rehearsing and without having learned a text by heart. So, how does it work, and most importantly, how do we control this and implement it in our presentations?

The story you tell is structured. It is the architecture, the narrative thread that runs from the beginning to the end of the story that makes it easy to remember. The strength of this structure is that it is logical: the way the events and different characters intervene is coherent.  It is much easier to remember the sequence of events recorded in history because they are connected by this logical link.  This fits perfectly well with the way the brain works and stores the information to which we are subjected: the building blocks of data produced by our senses, associated with our emotions that are connected with one another.  The stronger the link between these blocks of information, the easier it will be to reconstruct the memory and recall the sequence of events. Once again, this is a perfect opportunity to drop the everlasting analytical structure in favor of a narrative one that will be easier for you to remember and make a stronger impact on your audience.

The story you tell makes sense to you. When you tell a story to a colleague, you know full well why you’re telling it and what reaction you’re looking for. You have a plan! And this facilitates distancing you from a text to be focused on what is really important: being receptive to your partner and the way he reacts to the different stages of the story.  It’s the same thing for a presentation; never forget your purpose and the reaction you want from your audience and the changes you want to provoke in how they feel, think and act.  Be mindful of the stress of public speaking, which forces you to focus on words and lose the “structural” vision of the presentation.  That insightful story you tell so well in the hallways may be more difficult to convey the day your boss tells you: “that’s a great story, come and tell it to the 300 corporate leaders at the seminar next week!”

The story you tell… you’ve told it before! Indeed, this is where we remind you that rehearsing is an essential step to be a truly effective speaker. Again, the goal is not to repeat words or reproduce the precise conditions under which you will be on D-day. No, the goal is to rehearse the structure of the story! Just like a Bobsleigh champion who reviews the sequence of turns in the course. Or the way the tour guide, within the general structure of the visit is able to move away from the subject without losing the thread of his talk. Your slides are a bit like the rooms of a great castle that you are showing to your audience.  Entering a new room always provokes the same effect in terms of attention, discovery or surprise.  But the most important thing, that no part of a castle could ever convey, is the story told by the guide that gives meaning to the entire visit, across all the rooms you visit.