One of the most common reasons 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 PowerPoint slides as a memory aid. However, this is short-sighted because nothing erodes your credibility as a speaker faster than signaling to the audience that you are dependent on your slides.
Seasoned presenters are able to announce a slide before showing it. At a minimum, they know their material so well that all they need to do is 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 to help you remember what you have to say.
1. Use the Palace Method
Research into brain science has proven that there is a very deep connection between the way we remember an event and the space in which it occurred. The brain system that is important for memory is also important for space; in other words, we remember things on the basis of spatial locations or "spatial scaffolds." This is an ancient memory technique, commonly referred to as The Palace Method or Mind Palace. To learn how to use the method, watch Joshua Foer's video, “To Remember Better, Build a Mansion in Your Mind", or read his book, Moonlighting with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.
2. Use mind maps
Mind maps are diagrams that allow you to lay out all of your presentation material in a visual shape rather than in list form. This can be a powerful memory aid as the visual shape or image is imprinted in your brain and makes it easier to recall the information than a linear list of items, especially if you are a visual learner. Try practicing your presentation from a mind map rather than from traditional notes and see what happens.
You can draw mind maps manually or you can purchase mind mapping software such as Matchware or MindGenius.
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 BlackBerry ring 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. You will not only know your material better but you will also shorten your preparation time considerably.
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.
5. Rehearse out loud
Researchers found that memory improved by more than 10 percent for words spoken out loud. Rehearse your entire presentation out loud for no less than 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 you 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.
6. Practice to 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 not only learned in a fraction of the normal time, but they 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 in PowerPoint is the record narration function. This allows you to record yourself delivering your presentation and then playing it back. Hearing yourself narrating your presentation from slide to slide will boost your ability to remember your material, as you are now using a visual and auditory memory aid. If you are unfamiliar with this feature, see the step-by-step video “How to Record a Narration for a PowerPoint Presentation for Dummies.”
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.
9. Improve your working memory
Working memory, also referred to as our "mental chalkboard" is a system in our brain that allows us to temporarily retain and manipulate information necessary for complex tasks such as language comprehension, reasoning and learning new things. Improving our working memory can be helpful in controlling our ability to pay attention and remember things. In a Psychology Today article, William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, writes that research now shows that working memory can be strengthened by training. He refers to Cogmed, a new computer software program, which has been found helpful in improving working memory through a series of daily exercises. More on Cogmed's method can be seen in this video.
Keep in mind that only you know the ideas that you want to present. If you forget something, simply move on and the audience will likely not notice. You are not delivering an opera where the audience has a libretto to follow your script. If you remember something later, simply say so: "There is one other item I would like to add," or "Let me digress for a moment to mention another point." As the 19th century public orator, Henry Ward Hughes said long ago, "Worry is rust upon the blade." Stay sharp by replacing the time used for worry with time spent to acquire some of these memory improvement tools.
Illustration by Cannaday Chapman