Probably the worst mistake you can make is to try to memorize a speech word for word. First of all, it isn’t really necessary. The assumption is that if you’ve been asked to deliver a speech on a particular subject, you know something about that subject.

Secondly, memorizing the speech word for word will make it sound that way when you deliver it—memorized. And, finally, when you memorize a speech word for word, you’re taking the chance of fumbling over one word you can’t remember. Why take that chance when there are probably dozens of other words that would do?

Reading a speech doesn’t work either, because you want to hold the group’s attention, and reading to them is likely to put them to sleep. Even if you occasionally look up at your audience as you read, it won’t help much. As a matter of fact, that’s the moment when you’re likely to lose your place and start hemming and hawing as you try to find it.

The best way to deliver a speech is to talk it in your own words, thought for thought. A speech is a sequence of thoughts; if the thoughts are out of sequence, the speech won’t make much sense. Now, you know how to use the Link system to remember things in sequence. The Link, plus one other idea, will help you to remember your speech thought for thought.

how to memorize speeches

First, write out or type your speech, including all the things you want to say about all the ideas you think are important. Read it over to get the gist of it. Now for that “other idea”: Select a Key Word from each thought that will remind you of the entire thought.

This is easier to do than it might seem. There is rarely a thought, whether it is to be expressed in one sentence or two paragraphs, that cannot be brought to mind by one word or phrase. It is these Key Words (or Key Thoughts) that you Lin —at which point you have the speech memorized thought for thought!

Here are some excerpts from a talk delivered at a convention to a group of merchants and dealers selling the same line of products. The speaker was asked to talk about a sharp drop in profits over the previous two years and to suggest ways of doing something about it.

The talk originally took thirty-five minutes to deliver. Excerpts have been culled from it to demonstrate the Key Words or Thoughts that the speaker wanted to get across.

The problem is an obvious one. We’re all selling just as many of the product as we always have, but our profit margin has been drastically reduced. The reasons, too, are obvious. The cost of material and manufacture has gone up, and so have our prices. The trouble is that if we raise our prices any higher, we’ll lose sales. What we have to do is find ways to raise our profit margin.…

We have to get more people to walk in to our stores. Obviously, the more people that walk in to our stores, the more opportunities we have to make sales. Perhaps we can organize contests, etc.…

An important part of each of our businesses depends on building a good name in each of our local areas. There are many ways to do this; relaxing our “no return” policy.…

Our products are nationally advertised, but we haven’t been taking advantage of that at all. At least, not to my knowledge. We’ve got to plan local advertising to mesh with national advertising; blowups of the national ads in our windows should be considered, and.…

The new line, Starbright, Holly, Baby Soft, Meteor, and Honeymoon, is really good, and should help to stir up some fresh business. It’s been a long time since we had any new line of product at all.…

We also must work harder to turn bread and butter sales. Why should a customer walk out after buying only the item she came for? A little thought, and effort, would help toward finding ways to almost force the customer to buy at least one other item, perhaps just an accessory, to go with the one she bought. A two-for-one sale might work, or.…

And how can we make customers come back to the store? How many of you follow up a sale? How many of you take advantage of the names and addresses on your sales receipts that are gathering dust in your files? Use those names—send notes and notices of sales.…

The Key Words have been italicized within each of the thoughts of this talk. Let us emphasize that the speaker knew what he wanted to say about each thought—that wasn’t his problem. What he wanted to avoid was omitting an entire thought. Forming a Link takes care of that.

There are two ways to do this. You can either list or underline the Key Words, and then Link them; or you can Link them as you go. As you become more proficient, you’ll most likely Link the Key Words as you go.

how to deliver speeches

Now. The first Key Word or Thought is profit margin. Use a Substitute Word to remind you of it. Perhaps your Ma is drinking gin and being paid for it—she’s making a profit. That will certainly remind you of the thought; if you were delivering this talk, either Ma gin or profit alone would suffice.

The next Key Word is walk in. Associate Ma gin and/or profit to that; a silly picture of your gin-drinking Ma walking in to a store will do it. The next Key Word is good name. Continue the Link; you might see a name (picture gigantic letters of your name, or a gigantic business card) that’s good, walking into a store.

Good name to nationally advertised. You might see your good name being on the cover of a national magazine.

Nationally advertised to new line. See a ridiculous picture of a long line of national magazines hot off the press—they’re new.

New line to bread and butter. See a long line of bread and butter.

Bread and butter to come back. Picture yourself calling a gigantic piece of bread and butter to come back.

Forming such a Link accomplishes two things. It forces you to concentrate on (to be Originally Aware of) the thoughts of the speech, and it will give you the sequence of thoughts. Knowing that you definitely have that sequence also gives you a confidence that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Thinking of the first thought, Ma gin, is all you need to remind you that you want to talk about the reduction of the profit margin—so talk about it, say it in your own words. When you’ve said all you have to say about that, you’ll automatically be reminded of walk in. Since you wrote the speech, you’ll know just what walk in refers to; it will remind you of the entire thought. Just say what you want to say about getting people to walk in to the store.

If you made the ridiculous association, the Key Word walk in must remind you of good name. Talk about that; then good name will remind you of nationally advertised, at which point you say what you have to say about that thought. And so on, to the end of your speech.

You need only try this idea to see that it will work for you. You might be wondering what you’d do if you had a few facts to remember that pertained to a particular thought. For example, take the product names listed within the new line thought—you simply form an “oshoot” or “tangent” Link. That is, after you’ve formed your basic Link, go back to new line and form an offshoot Link of the names.

You might see a picture of a long line of bright stars; bright stars are forming a holly wreath on your door; you’re holding a holly wreath in your arms like a baby—it’s very soft; a baby is shooting across the sky like a meteor; two meteors are going on a honeymoon.

You’ll see, when you’re delivering the speech, that new line will lead you right through the shoot Link, reminding you of the product names. Then, you’ll still be reminded of the thought you originally associated to new line in the basic Link—bread and butter. If the products have style numbers, you can Link them, too—once you’ve learned how to picture numbers.

If, for some reason, you want to remember the speech virtually word for word, you’ll find that simply going over it a few more times will do the trick. Since you wrote the speech yourself, your own words would be the most likely ones to come to mind as you voiced each thought.

This same system—a combination of the Link and the Key Thought ideas—can be applied to reading material or lectures in almost exactly the same way. Simply Link Key Words as you read or listen. Applied to reading material, the idea forces you to read actively, with concentration; applied to lectures, it does the same thing. It’s difficult to allow your mind to wander when you’re listening for Key Words to remind you of thoughts. The next time you want to remember more of reading or lecture material than you usually do, try applying what you’ve learned here. You’ll be surprised at how much you retain.

The system can also be applied to song lyrics and scripts. Apply the same idea, then go over the material a few more times. It’s still necessary to remember the material thought for thought first; then you worry about word for word. The language itself is a memory aid—there are certain ways to say certain things. Once you definitely know the sequence of thoughts, the words tend to take care of themselves. If you know the thought, the worst that can happen is that you’ll say the line a bit differently from the way it was written; it’s when you don’t know the thought that you can really “go up” (have no idea what comes next).

One famous, award-winning actress has for some time applied these ideas to all her difficult-to-memorize scripts. In a letter, she wrote that the systems “make what is a usual drudgery part of the creative art!”
For now, you might want to apply the same basic idea to help you remember jokes and anecdotes. Two memory problems may have to be solved: remembering the joke in the first place, and remembering the idea of the joke, its premise and punchline.

To remember jokes, many professional comedians Link a Key Word or thought of one joke to the Key Word of the next, and so on. The comedian knows the jokes; he simply needs reminders of the jokes and their sequence. So, a Link of orange to politics to elephant to gas pump would be enough to remind a comedian to tell the joke about oranges, then the one about politics, and so on.

Remembering the idea and punchline of a joke is just as easy. Let’s remember this old gag:

“How do you make a Venetian blind?”

“Stick a finger in his eye!”

Simply form a silly association. Picture a venetian blind with one large eye on your window—see a gigantic finger going into that eye. That’s all. You’ll remember the idea and the punchline of the joke.