I don’t know yet exactly what words I’m going to write in this article, but I can tell you this: if I wanted to, I could memorize whatever you’re about to read in about 20 minutes – word for word. I’m not saying that to brag, if for no other reason than because people who brag about how good they are at memorizing things are really, really annoying, and the only people I intentionally try to annoy are my loved ones.
I’m saying it because for the last decade I’ve been delivering 60- and 90-minute keynote addresses to audience all across North America, and that has required me to memorize large chunks of information. And over time I’ve realized that I’m getting better at it. Ten years ago I would have said that the ability to memorize is a talent, something that you either have or you don’t. Now I realize that memorization is a skill you can hone. There are people who are far better at it than I am, but they’re not geniuses. They just know how to practice.
Maybe you want to nail an upcoming sales presentation. Perhaps you’d like to deliver a political speech without sounding like a robot. Or possibly you want to impress a sexy history buff by spontaneously reciting the Gettysburg Address on your first date. Whatever your reasons for wanting to get better at memorizing something, here’s how I do it. I think it will work for you, too.
1) It MUST be important to you.
We’ve all been introduced to people whose names we started forgetting as we were being introduced. That happens because we aren’t paying attention, and the reason we’re not paying attention is because we’ve somehow decided that this information isn’t worth keeping. It’s not important to me to memorize this article, and so it would take me a long time to do it. If my life depended on it, however, I’d knock it out straightaway. Simply telling yourself that something is important to memorize will get your brain in the right framework to start doing so.
2) Memorize in sections.
You shouldn’t expect to memorize anything longer than a paragraph all in one go, which means even the Gettysburg Address needs to be sectioned up. Divide your script into self-contained pieces that make sense to you. Once you’ve memorized the first piece, you can then move on to the next. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew all at once, or you’ll get overwhelmed.
3) Talk out loud as you’re reading what you’re trying to memorize.
And do this A LOT. Memorization is really just a lot of practice, and you’ll be getting twice the practice if you read your script and say it out loud at the same time. Once you feel comfortable, start saying it out loud without reading along, but keep the script handy in case you get lost halfway through. If your brain functions like mine does, then you’ll sometimes actually see the words in your head even when you’re not looking at them on a screen or paper.
4) Worry about the script BEFORE worrying about how to speak.
The first thing to do is get the words down. Once you do that, you can then focus on cadence, inflection, intonation, and all the rest of it.
5) Shoot for the right level of accuracy.
Most of the things that you’ll try to memorize don’t require perfection. As long as you’re able to get the main idea across and flow intelligently from one point to the next, people will forgive whatever small mistakes or omissions you make. In fact, most of the time they won’t even notice you’ve made a mistake because they won’t have read the source material. And even if they have, they probably didn’t bother to memorize it, so you win!
I hope that’s helpful. Again, memorization is all about practice, which means the more practice you do, the better you’ll get. Personally I like to practice while going for long walks. You’ll get some exercise, and it’s actually quite peaceful. Because trust me, nobody bothers someone who looks like they’re talking to themselves.