Jan 26

To Memorise, or not Memorise

“The man who writes out and memorises his talks is wasting his time and energy and courting disaster” – Dale Carnegie

During my development as a public speaker I have often wrestled with whether I should memorise my speeches or not.

When I was an actor I often wondered whether I preferred scripted performances or the free form opportunities that improvisation afforded me. I’d have to say that I probably lean towards improve as I enjoy the freedom and working without a safety net.

When I first joined Toastmasters I used to script and learn what I was going to say. Then I gradually moved away from that and worked from outlines.

I moved away from scripting my speeches because I was looking for a more organic way of capturing the way that I speak and, therefore, connecting with my audience.

I think if you are able to truly capture the way that you speak, you will come across as conversational and not “Captain Speechmaker” – someone who sounds like they’ve written and learnt a speech. As a result, by being conversational you sound more like a regular person and a member of the audience.

Things were going well for me. I was developing a solid understanding of speech structure as well as following the rhythms of my audience; their laughter, etc.

Even though I never memorised my speeches that doesn’t mean to say that I didn’t rehearse. I would do my research, create my speech outline and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. This would allow me to know the direction I wanted my speech to go in and give my mouth the practise of going there.

Note: 24 hours is too long to go without going over your lines; whether you’re a speaker or not. The muscle memory of your mouth needs to go over the lines to help reduce the risk of you stumbling.

Somewhere during the course of my on-going study I heard that Darren La Croix started the same way as me, until a previous World Champion (Mark Brown I think), suggested that Darren learn the speech that he would use for the World Championships in 2001.

The idea was that this is what champions do to take their speaking to the next level. I thought “I want to take my speaking to the next level”; so that’s what I did.

I plotted out my outline in the usual way, spoke it out loud several times and then captured what I was going to say. I then spent time editing what was on the page.

Tip: If you’re using paper (or a word processor) use it to transcribe and then edit what you’re going to say. This will allow you capture your speech rhythms.

The result? I won the International Speech contest in my club. This was fan-tabulouso!! Scripting then learning it allowed me to be careful of my use of language which is important in the International Speech contest as that is a set of marks.

That said, that was nearly a year ago as I write this and I haven’t stuck to scripting my speeches.

The two manuals I chose to concentrate on for my Advanced Communicator Bronze journey was the Storytelling manual and the Humorously Speaking manual. I used a combination of scripting and free-form working from an outline. I enjoyed keeping it “loosey-goosey”. I did, however, script the 10th speech of that manual and stayed, mostly, on track.

Then I came across the above quote from Dale Carnegie, one of the grandfathers of modern day public speaking. I think he is absolutely right; you are potentially courting disaster because you might find yourself forgetting sections of your talk which will throw you completely.

By working from an outline, which you’ve rehearsed (until you throw up on yourself) you don’t risk failure in the same way. I’m not saying it won’t happen, ‘cos it might. But the point is you don’t run the risk of forgetting huge swathes of text (I’ve always wanted to be able to use the word “swathes” in a sentence. And now I have. Twice).

Although, as we now know, Darren La Croix, Mark Brown, and other World Champions, have memorised their speeches word for word. They wanted to take their speaking to the next level. And they did… in one of the biggest understatements on this, or any other, blog.

And so, for me at least, the debate continues. So, to memorise or not to memorise?

What do you think? Do you script and then memorise your speeches? Or do you work from an outline and let it flow out naturally? Which works best for you? Let me know in the comment section below.
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3 pings

  1. kare anderson

    What a helpful post!!
    I want to be in your audience Jason.

    Memorize the “bones” of your talk:
    the main point, 3 supportive points, accompanying anchor stories/vignettes/word pictures for each, the segues between them, the opening and closing lines – then focus on the emotion/pacing for each – then let the rest flow – will your energy flowing out to pull in the audience, enveloping them, individual (look at one person in each 3 sectors of audience so all around them feel you are looking at just them) … then the energy will be filling the whole room – for us
    … a moving from me to we tip

  2. Jason Peck

    Hi Kare

    Thanks for the nice comments. Your “moving from me to we tip” is great. This is kind of what I do already. I think I prefer this way of working.

    The thing about memorising a speech word for word is that sometimes, in the speech creation process, you are able to create an effective way of expressing and idea that you really want to chare with the audience.

    In those circumstances, it would be useful to nail the text. Or at least, those specific parts you want to share.

    I’m going to do a post next on a fast memory technique.


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