How To Use Your Mental TV To Memorize A Speech (or Anything)

To Memorize A Speech Requires Strong Visual Images
To Memorize A Speech Requires Strong Visual Images

Back when I was in school, I was taking mainly technical courses and I got to be pretty good at them. The routine was pretty much the same for each class: learn the formula, work some problems to practice using the formula, take a test and show that you know how to use the formula. The same thing went for my Computer Science classes except that instead of formulas, we were dealing with computer languages. You can well imagine how surprised and unprepared I was when I had to take some business courses: there were no formulas! Instead, there was a great deal of “facts” that needed to be memorized and then dumped back out of your head while you were taking a test. My friends who were in Business School had become very good at this type of memorize / dump routine; however, I was basically clueless.

Eventually I found a way to get all of that information to stick in my brain. What was even better was that, unlike my friends, it would remain there long after the test / final exam had come and gone. I had truly found a way to memorize my material. This is exactly the skill that you need when you have an opportunity to give a speech. You need to memorize your speech in such a way that it comes back to you quickly and easily each and every time that you need to give the speech without the need for any notes. In fact, if you could find a way to get your speech to play out on that big TV in your head, then all you would have to do is watch it and tell your audience what you were seeing. Sounds like an impossible dream? It’s not and I’m going to show you how to do it.

First, let’s start with just a little bit of medical knowledge so that you understand why this technique works. Based on years of research, Doctors believe that the part of the human brain that is responsible for our memories is the part that is called the hippocampus. Here’s the important part: if this part of the brain is stimulated sufficiently, then we will remember what stimulated it. We are all very visually based beings. This means that our memories are made up of images – sorta like a big stack of photographs. If you can visualize something, then it suddenly becomes much easier to remember it. That’s why long phone numbers can be hard to memorize (no good picture) and why what a fancy new car looks like (it’s all about looks) can be easy to recall even if you’ve only see it once.

In order to memorize your speech, you need to do three things:

  1. Break the speech up into a sequence of steps. These steps need to be as small as you can make them and they need to be placed in a sequential order: start, middle, and ending.
  2. You need to associate an image AND and action with each step of your speech. The wilder and more outrageous the image/action are the easier that step is going to be to remember.
  3. Finally, you need to “place” all of your steps someplace where you will be able to find them. If your speech was short and only had 10 steps, then I’d suggest that you visualize yourself “placing” them on your body: toes, ankles, knees, shins, hips, butt, back, shoulders, neck, head. If you have more steps, then I’d use some place that you know very well: your home is a great place to start. Think of your bedroom and “place” each step on things that are currently in your bedroom.

Now comes the fun part. In order to memorize your speech, what you are really going to be doing is running thorough your list and recalling the images/actions that you have stored in each location. The key to success is that you’ll need to recall each step in proper sequential order and you’ll be need to be able to do it with little or no effort. How about an example to make this all seem just a little bit more real?

Let’s say that you were asked to give a presentation on your company’s new 401k program (how boring would that be?) Here are the key points that you need to cover in your speech: everyone is automatically enrolled upon joining the company, you can un-enroll, the company will match the first 5% that you contribute, if you leave the company you can take your 401k with you, and you can borrow against your 401k in special circumstances. Yawn! Now let’s do some work to memorize this speech:

  1. Break it into steps:
    • everyone is automatically enrolled upon joining the company,
    • you can un-enroll,
    • the company will match the first 5% that you contribute,
    • if you leave the company you can take your 401k with you,
    • you can borrow against your 401k in special circumstances.
  2. Now create pictures / actions for each step (sorry, these pictures/actions work for me – results may vary for you):
    • I see an assembly line of new employees moving along past a machine that stamps “401k” on everyone’s forehead. The stamp hits them with a big “smack” sound and leaves a big red mark.
    • I see some new employees on the assembly line, after they have been stamped, reaching up and peeling off a piece of clear tape that covered their forehead and, because it got stamped and not their actual forehead, they can just throw it away and they are not labeled as “401k” like everyone else
    • I see the employees on the assembly line one-by-one stopping at a table where an accountant wearing a green visor and sitting at a plain wooden table sits. Each employee starts to lay down $1 bills on the table and as he does so, the accountant lays another $1 bill down on the table right by the employee’s bill. However, once the employee lays down his 6th $1 bill, the accountant stops laying his money down. The employee scoops up all of the money and gets back on the assembly line.
    • I see some employees jumping off of the assembly line holding big piles of cash and vanishing through a hole in the floor that has a big flashing “EXIT” sign beside it.
    • I see an employee jumping off of the assembly line and running towards a house that is fully on fire. The employee goes over to a big water tank that is located right by the house, turns a faucet on and drags a hose over to the burning house turns it on. Money starts to stream out of the end of the hose and smothers the house and puts the fire out.
  3. Finally, I see myself sitting in my office and the assembly line of new employees is running by the office just out in the hall.

There you have it. Admittidly this is a fairly boring topic for most of us to talk about; however, using the memorization techniques that we’ve talked about you can see how you could “lock” this speech into your brain. When it came time to deliver the speech, all that you would have to do is sit back and play the stored images back on that big TV in your mind. What could be easier?

So tell me: have you ever used a memorization technique like this? How did it work out for you? Do you use some different way to keep your facts straight? How long can you recall things – for a day? a week? or longer? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

13 thoughts on “How To Use Your Mental TV To Memorize A Speech (or Anything)”

  1. I think this is a great method. I’ve heard of similar techniques…but the visual that I got as the new employees on the assembly line had their forehead stamped was too funny. Very vivid. I do believe that I will try this technique out.

    In the past what I have found myself doing, is speaking about certain topics regularly. And depending on the audience (orientation, advanced training, etc.), I would just jot down 3 or 4 of these “modules” that I was well versed in so I remembered the order. However this didn’t work as well when I had new material. I would always end up relying too much on PowerPoint the first few times.

    I found you blog via your comment on Speak Schmeak, really good content – I think I will enjoy subscribing.

  2. Brandon: I’m right with you there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten overconfident and charged on in to deliver a speech that contained new material without taking the time to really get to know the new stuff. And yes, I too ended up showing the audience my back while I read the new thoughts right off of the PowerPoint!

    Each time I do this, I promise myself that I will never do it again. I’m sure that that will be true someday!!!

    P.S.: welcome to The Accidental Communicator – we all got here by accident!

  3. Very nice memorizing techniques you teach here. In my opinion memorizing a speech already begins when writing it. First it is easier to remember something that you worked on yourself. Second, you have to structure your speech from the very beginning in a way that feels natural to you. The more logical your speech feels for the speaker the easier it will be to remember it.

    • We are in agreement! I have always been sorta amazed that CIOs, presidents, etc. do such a good job delivering speeches that they have not written themselves. The two exceptions to this have always been Steve Jobs (Apple) and John Chambers (Cisco). Both of these guys don’t write their own speeches, but they do spend a LOT of time practicing them and thus, just like you said, make them their own.

  4. Jim, I’m putting you to the test–literally. I’m studying for the bar exam after having passed it in another state 30 years ago. This morning while meditating a very vivid picture came to me about the subject I’m on now – conflicts of laws – a guy in the middle being pulled in two directions – an old woman in a vest with a map on it (for the old rule) and a young woman – his “significant relationship” – for the new rule. Then he has to jump through a hoop, sign a contract, get married, get divorced, etc. until he dies. I’m excited about applying this to the other subjects. I just wish I could draw!

    PS I get to you through LinkedIn, and as a professional speaker since 1982 I consistently find your postings useful and insightful.

    • Rita: Good luck with that Bar exam! I hope that this technique allows you to have more confidence and do well on the exam – I’ve used it for many exams and it’s worked miracles for me. There’s one thing that I didn’t cover: it turns out that the more you practice “seeing” the images, the less you actually need the pictures themselves. Over time they have a habit of just “fading away” and you are automatically able to recall your information. How’s that for a mental TV that’s at your control?!!

      • Jim, an update – I just finished the Bar Exam last week and actually had fun doing it! I ended up creating a lot of mnemonics. I went to google-images to find pictures to go with them. I literally had over two hundred in 13 different subjects. I was concerned that I wouldn’t remember which went with what, but when I was taking the test, without even thinking an image would pop into my head. It will be 12 weeks before I get official word but I’m sure I passed. Thank you for inspiring me!

        • Rita,

          That is fantastic news – this technique has helped me through a lot of exams also so I’m thrilled to hear that it helped you.

          You owe me an update when you get your notice that you passed!

  5. Jim, your idea of creating a mental image for each part sounds innovative. However, personally I think there is high risk of forgetting the mental images as well unless all the mental images can be formed into a story plot. I would recommend another approach for memorising speech contents: Tagline. Give tagline to each of your main point will help speakers remember the contents. What’s more, taglines are great for the audience to remember the speech as well. For details about how to use tagline, please see:

    • Peter: Yes, but… I’ll agree that you really don’t want to memorize the entire speech. However, at the same time I’d say that you do want to memorize your opening and closing. That’s where the specific words that you use matter in that case…


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