Public Speaking – Should you memorise your speech word for word?

This is an AI generated transcript so please forgive any errors and spelling mistakes. 

Today let’s explore whether you should use bullets to practise your speech or go for learning every word! I’m often asked which approach is better so let’s take a look.

When you’re preparing a presentation should you memorize it word-for-word or should you work from bullet points? We’ll talk about that in just a moment. First, my name’s Shola Kaye. I’m a professional speaker and public speaking coach based in London. I have clients around the world. I work with organizations and also with individuals who want to improve their careers and boost their businesses with public speaking.

A question that I often get is should I memorize my presentation word for word or is it okay to speak a little bit more off-the-cuff. My answer is it depends. Typically, when people are just starting out in speaking they need that extra confidence that comes from having memorized the entire talk. Now, obviously if it’s an hour-long presentation to actually try and cram all of that into your head word for word might be quite difficult. But if it’s a five-minute presentation, or ten minutes, then it becomes more possible to actually memorize every single word, every pause, every gesture etc. Not that it’s a good thing to do, but it becomes possible.

Public Speaking – beware of the dangers of memorising every single word

I think when people are starting out speaking it gives them that extra boost that they’ve put the time in, they’ve worked out all the different terms of phrase the vocabulary etc beforehand. Then all they’ve got to do is learn it and then (I was going to say regurgitate it, but that sounds a bit disrespectful) they’ve got to learn it and then they have got to recreate it in front of the audience. I know that my first ever speech that I made, I was very much in that mode, I learned every single word and that’s what gave me the confidence to stand up and present it.

One of the problems with learning everything word-for-word is that if something happens to break your train of thoughts then you can be completely thrown off course. And if you can’t get back to where you were then sometimes people think they can’t carry on, they just have to stop and sit down. It’s a big danger. Another danger is if everything is in your head then you can’t be present with the audience and you’ll see people looking up because they’re trying to access the information. So instead of being able to make good eye contact with the audience they’re in their heads thinking what’s coming next? what’s coming next? And the result is there isn’t that same connection between the audience and the speaker because the speaker is clearly in their head for most of the presentation rather than there in the room with the audience.

Public Speaking – write the speech out before rehearsing

If it’s not a good thing to memorize the whole speech word-for-word then what are the alternatives? Well one thing you can do is, even though you don’t intend to memorize the speech word-for-word, you may still create it word-for-word in a document, let’s say. One of the benefits of doing this is that you get to work out exactly how you’re going to phrase certain things. Obviously when you practice out loud vs when you read you might find that your tongue trips over certain expressions, certain words. You change them to be easier to say. Or you might find that you’ve got long lumpy sentences so you make those punchy and short. There’s nothing wrong with scripting out your talk first on paper before you start to rehearse it. That, as I say, will help you with structure, can help you with the right vocabulary and the right phrasing that you want to use for that particular audience.

Public Speaking – spend extra time memorising the most important points

If you don’t want to script out the entire presentation one thing you can do is spend extra time on things that are typically tricky to remember. That might be quotes, might be jokes, it might be statistics, it might be numbers. Anything where you might have a series of numbers or a sort of long quote, anything where you really need for it to be bang on, take the time to memorize those parts and practice them over and above. Practice them a little bit more than the rest of the presentation because you really want to be present to the audience and with them in the room while you’re reciting that list of numbers, while you’re sharing that quote. That’s so important. You don’t want to have to kind of “OK, let me just go up here for a second, see you in a minute folks…” you remember the quote, say it, and then come back, right? Because it’s really clear that you’re breaking contact to access that information.

That’s why it’s important with anything like that to rehearse that extra carefully so that you can look at the audience and at the same time sprout off those facts and figures that you have to share with them. I was watching a speaker just recently and she had a couple of lists of numbers and stats and things to share with people and it was very clear. While she was super confident and going at her own pace while she was sharing that the regular information with the audience, whenever she had to access lists and things then the audience was cut out and she was thinking and then came back afterwards. To avoid that back-and-forth there make sure that you memorize those parts in particular.

Other bits that you might want to memorize word for word are the introduction of your presentation. And also the close because that’s really important too. Let’s say you’re making a sales presentation, you might want to really work hard on memorizing or internalizing at least some of the key elements are going to use to persuade the audience. Or the steps that you’re going to follow to be more persuasive or to make that sale. You’ve got to decide what are the most important points of your presentation and do they need any extra focus during your rehearsal. If they do need that extra focus, those might be the areas that you want to actually commit to memory rather than the entire presentation.

Public Speaking – a brief summary of the key takeaways

Should you memorize your entire speech or work with bullets? At the end of the day it’s up to you. The risk of memorizing everything is that if somebody coughs at the wrong time or something happens that’s distracting in the audience and then you lose your train of thought that might be the end of it for you, might be very hard to come back. Bullet points are great but making sure that you’ve got your key details your key facts and figures memorized or at least internalized so that you can share those without having to go into the into the mind and into the brain and cut the contact with the audience. Use this information and hope it’s useful for you.

I will see you next time please do reach out connect with me on LinkedIn. Tell me that you’ve seen a vlog or you’ve listened to the podcast, I’d love that. Go to my website download a freebie and keep in touch.

Good luck with your speaking and take care, bye!


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