In Presentation Mentor’s online course, you’ll learn techniques for mastering public speaking. Many of those originated from the book Rhetorica ad Herennium, where the anonymous author names 5 key principles that we call the canons of rhetoric: invention, style, arrangement, delivery, and memory. These are concepts we still use today, although many of them have been adapted and renamed. However, one of those canons seems to be slipping through the cracks of modern society: memory.
In a world of smart technology, we rarely need to memorize things. USA Today explored a list of 20 things we don’t do anymore because of technology, and memorizing phone numbers was the first one. But memorization is still a skill that can benefit us in our presentations.
What To Memorize
While memorization used to be the preferred method of delivery for speeches, we rarely use it today. We prefer presentations that are extemporaneous, meaning, they are prepared and practiced, but also flexible to be adapted. Memorized delivery shackles you to a script that doesn’t allow for response to audience feedback. However, you might want to consider memorizing the following parts of your presentation:
- The introduction. Memorizing the opening part of your message allows you to make continuous eye contact with the audience during those crucial first moments.
- Quotes. Sometimes you need to get certain words exactly right, as in cases where you are referencing another’s work or where your words will be reprinted verbatim, as in the case of a press release.
- The main points. When you are highlighting the main points of your presentation, you want to keep the terminology of those points the same, using repetition to help your audience remember them.
- Transitions. When speakers are moving from one part of the presentation to the next, it’s common for them to fumble around for words. Memorizing your transitions keeps things flowing smoothly.
- The conclusion. Memorizing your concluding statement allows you to engage with the audience through facial expression and eye contact during the last few moments of your presentation.
Memorization is not an archaic tool. There will always be moments in our presentations when we need to say certain words powerfully, and relying on presentation notes or impromptu statements simply won’t suffice.
How To Memorize
So we know that memorization can help us increase the power of key moments in our presentation, but how do we build a stronger memory? Harry Caplan’s translation of the Rhetorica ad Herennium says, “The natural memory is that memory which is imbedded in our minds … The artificial memory is that memory which is strengthened by a kind of training and system of discipline.” We are talking here about building a stronger artificial memory through practice. There’s an ancient memory technique often referred to as backgrounding. You may have encountered it under other names: mind palace, memory palace, loci, brain attic, but these are all variations on the ancient canon of rhetoric we call memory. Here’s how you use it.
In order to remember something, place it within a familiar background, for instance, your house or workplace. Within that background, place the object or person or concept in a specific setting doing an absurd thing. For example, if I’m trying to remember my grocery list of eggs, milk, and butter, I’m going to place those in my house following the path I usually take when I enter. So I might picture eggs smashed and dripping down my front door and a gallon of milk spilled in the front hallway where both of my cats are licking up the puddle. I picture myself struggling to step over the puddle to get into the kitchen where at last I find my children with sticks of butter strapped to their feet ice skating on the kitchen floor.
The concept teaches that the background should be familiar while the image of the thing you are trying to remember should be absurd, and the more absurd, the better chance you have of “burning” it into your brain and recalling it later. When you prepare for a presentation, you might try using this ancient practice to recall concepts or specific phrases by backgrounding them.
Ask a friend to help you test out this memorization technique. Have your friend list 20 well-known public figures on a sheet of paper. Then, ask that friend to read those items to you slowly, one at a time, numbering each one. For example: 1. Benjamin Franklin. 2. Michael Jordan. 3. Betty White. As your friend proceeds through the list, place each figure in a specific location in your house doing a very specific and absurd thing. Make sure to follow the natural flow of whatever background you pick. Then, see if you are able to recall the people in order.
If you’ve enjoyed learning how to improve your memory, you’ll want to register for our online course and learn more of these time-tested techniques for achieving presentation greatness.