A common reason we experience presentation anxiety is the fear that we will forget what we have to say and risk losing credibility. A method many use to address this fear is to create presentation slides as a memory aid. However, this can be short-sighted because nothing erodes your credibility as a speaker faster than signaling to the audience that you depend on your slides.
Seasoned presenters are able to announce a slide before showing it. At a minimum, they know their material so well that they only need to briefly glance at the slide to know what's coming next. You can achieve this by doing simple memory-boosting practices to remember your presentation material and, in turn, reduce your anxiety.
Here are nine tips for memorizing a speech or presentation:
1. Use the Palace Method
Among the most effective tips for memorizing lines is The Palace Method or Mind Palace. The Palace Method is based on research into brain science that has proven a very deep connection between how we remember an event and the space in which it occurred. The brain system important for memory is lso important for space; in other words, we remember things based on spatial locations or "spatial scaffolds."
In a nutshell, The Palace Method is a memory technique that involves transforming what you want to remember into images and placing the images in a familiar mental location. In other words, you're giving your memories something to hang on to, a spatial anchor. You can then mentally tour your Memory Palace looking at your memories through these spatial anchors to help you recall each memory.
Seasoned presenters are able to announce a slide before showing it. At a minimum, they know their material so well that they only need to briefly glance at the slide to know what's coming next.
Have you ever wondered how do you memorize a last-minute presentation? The Memory Palace Method is an ancient memory technique for how to memorize a presentation, and it's worth knowing.
For further reading, you might consider Joshua Foer's book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (or watch Foer's popular video, To Remember Better, Build a Mansion in Your Mind, which illustrates a specific memory-building technique.)
So, How do You Create Your Own Memory Palace?
- First, create a mental image for every item you want to remember. You will mentally place these images in a location you're familiar with, possibly the place where you grew up or your current residence.
- Next, visualize arriving at that location and placing, on the front door, the mental image you created of the first item you want to remember.
- Next, step inside the house and turn to your left. What's the first thing you see? For this example, let's pretend it's a fireplace. Now mentally place by the fireplace the image you created of the second item you want to remember.
- Continue your mental tour, seeing the other things in the room. Place each image you created for what you want to remember on different things in the room. Do this for the entire list of items you want to memorize. You may move from one room to the other until you have exhausted all the items on your list that you need to remember.
- Rehearse walking through the route as many times as you can. This will aid in familiarizing yourself with your mental palace and help you recall the memorized information faster during the actual presentation.
You might need more than one memory palace, depending on what you're trying to remember.
2. Use Mind Maps
A mindmap is a diagram that allows you to lay out all of your presentation material in a visual shape rather than in list form. A mindmap can be a powerful memory aid as the visual shape or image is imprinted on your brain, making it easier to recall the information than a linear list of items.
Drawing a mindmap is also an effective way to memorize a last-minute presentation. Try practicing your presentation from a mindmap rather than traditional notes and see what happens.
So, How do You Create a Mindmap?
Here are the basic steps to build a mindmap:
First step: Write down your main topic. For example, your main topic could be the importance of pausing when delivering a presentation.
Second step: Once you've established your main topic for the mindmap, add branches listing the topics you want to remember. In the case of this example, you would have a branch titled: "When it's important to pause." (You can simply write "When?")
Under this branch, you would insert subtopic branches listing the various reasons for pausing. Subtopics for our example might include:
- Pause before displaying a complex visual.
- Pause between different topics.
- Pause before and after explaining a critical or complex concept.
Short phrases and even keywords should suffice to jog your memory when rehearsing from your mindmap. For example, instead of "Pause before displaying a complex visual," you only need to write "complex visual."
Third step: Explore another topic by adding another branch to the main topic in your mindmap, such as "The benefits of pausing." (You can simply write "Why?") To continue with this example, your sub-topics branches would include:
- To appear unrushed and confident.
- To replace filler words.
- To engage the audience.
You can draw images and use different colors to help you visualize and recall information more quickly than words. You can draw a mindmap manually or purchase mind-mapping software such as Matchware, MindGenius, Scapple or Xmind, to name a few.
3. Know the Value of Focusing for Eight Seconds
Memory experts tell us that it takes an uninterrupted eight seconds for a piece of information to be processed through the hippocampus and into memory – this is how information is encoded in our brain.
Examine how you go about preparing for a presentation. Are you concentrating fully on the task of transferring the information from your notes into memory? Or are you in the habit of interrupting yourself by checking e-mail, reacting to each social media notification, or answering the phone? Remember the crucial eight seconds rule and carve out dedicated time when you can be laser-focused on rehearing the information without any interruptions. This will prevent you from overthinking your material and considerably shorten your preparation time.
4. Practice the 20-20-20 Rule of Rehearsal
How long should you be rehearsing your presentation? Memory experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule, which prescribes going over the details of a presentation for 20 minutes, then repeating the same material twice more. If material is not repeated within 30 minutes, it is not encoded into long-term memory.
This method can help you from overthinking and spending too much time memorizing your material.
5. Rehearse Out Loud
Rehearse your entire presentation out loud at least five to six times. Do this and watch your confidence in the material grow as you not only boost your memory of the material but also end up turning the presentation from a mere recital of facts to something that you have truly internalized—it changes the presentation from a thespian activity to a message that you deliver from the inside out.
What's more, rehearsing out loud can help you practice your pre-planned pauses to avoid speaking too fast when you deliver your presentation.
6. Practice to Music
When you explore tips for memorizing your presentation, don't forget music. Music is an effective tool to help us retain information. Dr. Georgi Lozanov, a psychologist, developed a methodology for teaching foreign languages which involved using baroque music with about 60 beats per minute. This type of music activates the left and right brain; the simultaneous action of both hemispheres maximizes the retention of information.
Students learned in a fraction of the usual time and had an average of 92 percent retention. The same applies to retaining your presentation material. Consider listening to music while rehearsing your presentation to help you absorb and retain large amounts of information.
7. Record Your Presentation
A simple, yet surprisingly not widely-known, feature is the record narration function. This allows you to record yourself delivering your presentation and then replaying it. Hearing yourself narrating your presentation from slide to slide will boost your ability to remember your material, as you now use a visual and auditory memory aid. This is a highly effective way to memorize a presentation or a speech.
8. Rehearse Before Bedtime
Neuroscientists uncovered a link between sleep and learning and memory. The findings showed that sleep enhances the consolidation of recently-acquired information in our memory system. Therefore, if you rehearse your presentation just before bedtime, you are more likely to remember the material more easily in the morning. Try doing this for your next presentation.
What's more, a quick run-through of the material before bedtime can help you calm your mind and get a good night's sleep. Consider doing a "brain dump" before bedtime by jotting down thoughts circling in your mind of any last-minute arrangements you must make the following day so they don't run through your head while you try to sleep.
9. Improve Your Working Memory
Let's start by defining what working memory is. Working memory, also referred to as our "mental chalkboard," is a system in our brain that allows us to temporarily retain small amounts of information, such as remembering a phone number, a grocery list or a set of directions. It's our capacity to retain and control information for brief periods.
Working memory is for things that matter to you now but won't matter in 20 years. Long-term memory, in contrast, refers to all the information stored in our brains throughout our life.
Improving our working memory can help control our ability to pay attention and remember things.
- You might consider using some memorization apps, such as Cogmed, Mindsparke or Elevate, to name a few.
- Rehearsal of information can also help. According to researchers, if information is practiced enough, it can become more permanent.
- Dividing big chunks of information into manageable bite-size pieces and rehearsing these small chunks will also help you remember your material. Concentrate and rehearse one or two of the small chunks before moving on to the next pieces of the presentation.
What if You Forget Your Presentation?
Keep in mind that only you know the ideas you want to present. You are not delivering an opera where the audience has a libretto to follow your script.
If you forget something, move on, and the audience will likely not notice. If you remember something later, say: "There is one other item I would like to add," or "Let me digress for a moment to mention another point."
Stay sharp by using some of these memory improvement techniques.
Preparing for a Presentation Should be Quick and Effective With these 9 Tips
- Use the memory palace method to encode the information in your long-term memory for easy retrieval.
- Draw a mind map to outline all your presentation material and rehearse from the mind map.
- Practice deep focusing and rehearse your information without interruptions.
- Use the rehearsal rule of 20-20-20 to shorten your practice time.
- Practice your presentation material aloud.
- Create a low-stress environment and listen to music while rehearsing.
- Record your presentation and watch a replay several times.
- Rehearse before going to bed and write down a checklist of what's on your mind as a brain dump to relax your mind and get a good night's sleep.
- Improve your working memory by using memorization apps and breaking your rehearsal material into bite-size, manageable chunks.
A version of this article was originally published on April 11, 2012.
Photo: Getty Images