I recently stumbled on a Reddit thread in the Public Speaking section. The question was about memorization and being able to calm the body down.
Here’s the question:
Straight up, I don’t like the art of memorizing. I prefer knowing my content and knowing the points I want to cover. I suppose, technically, I memorize the points I want to cover and their order. But that’s not the point!
This question is about having to memorize something word for word, and the poster shows that there are situations where it’s unavoidable. So, in today’s post we'll go over some steps for how to deal with it when you don’t have a choice.
Let’s rock and roll...
Breathe Dammit, Breatheeee!
As mentioned in the original question, the poster stated he’s doesn't feel nervous and has no fear of judgement. Well, consciously this may be the truth, but the evidence says otherwise.
As the poster explains, he feels the physical symptoms of anxiety (hands shaking and heart pumping) as well as the fact that his mind goes blank.
The mind going haywire is a classic sign that the speaker is feeling the “excitement”! And there is nothing wrong with that. It should happen to a degree, but not to the extent that it’s screwing up the ability to remember important things like, ya know, YOUR SPEECH!
Nothing topples breathing as a tool to control the immediate symptoms of speech anxiety.
When you’re a few minutes away from having to speak, start the breathing process. Inhale...3-5 seconds...exhale...3-5 seconds. Repeat this 3-5 times or as needed to calm your body and heart-rate. Don’t hold your breath too long and pass out, though. If you start to get light-headed, exhale.
You can start this process even sooner to “ground” yourself as much as possible before the fear tornado arrives. Is it better to have to put out a stove-top fire, or an acre of brush?
Control your breathing sooner and you’ll only need to deal with a stove-top fire...
There is a big difference between true memorization and getting to the minimal point of being able to recite that which must be memorized.
You’re probably thinking, “If you can recite it entirely from memory, then you’ve memorized it! Gosh Matt, stop being a dumbass!”
Slow down buddy...hear me out.
I remember in my kindergarten class, the entire class had to memorize the ABCs. To entice us to actually do it, Miss Hayes offered each of us a big box of animal crackers. Not a puny box, but the full-size. You better believe we tried to learn as fast as possible. As soon as I was able to recite them, I ran and told my teacher lest I forget. It worked, and I got those lovely animal crackers.
However, once the constant repetition during those few days wore off, I stuffed the ABCs somewhere into my subconscious. I didn’t truly memorize them until much later in the year when we had more opportunities to use and internalize them.
At the point of true memorization, you don’t necessarily have to consciously think of the words as you recite them—they'll just be there. For example, I remember a sales pitch from 16 years ago (I actively used it for a year). Still, it flows like it was yesterday.
On the other hand, I "memorized" 3 poems last year in just 2 weeks' time and got to the point where I could remember each of them with ease. That was in June 2016 and now I can hardly remember any part of them. It's because I didn't continue to actively use them for a long enough time to truly know them by heart.
To overcome this and get yourself to Memorization instead of “memorization,” you need more time and/or more active use of them (verbalize, in-thought, write it down, draw a picture, add it to Memory Palace which will be discussed more below, etc.).
You might not have have unlimited time, so in that case it means more practice and preparation—as much as possible.
Finally, to get to the crux of why “memorization” isn’t good enough in a nerve racking situation, like public speaking, is because it requires a butt-load of mental resources.
Well, understand that in a fear-coma you lose access to certain body/mental functions that aren’t needed in a survival or fight-or-flight situation, which is what your mind classifies it as.
The better you know your stuff, the less mental resources you need to access it. It’s not to say you can’t be so nervous that you end up forgetting something that is actually memorized, because I’ve heard of cases where people couldn’t even remember their own name when thrown in front of an audience. But, without a doubt, it improves your odds.
You want every advantage possible, right? There you have it.
Slow Down, Charlie...
Slow down and take your time.
Inexperienced speakers like to start spitting out words as soon as they step foot on the stage. This is mostly related to nerves. The sooner they start the sooner they can get back to safety, right? That’s the gist.
Pausing is scary. And even when a new speaker thinks they’re pausing, it’s not even close. One second feels like a college semester.
But pauses are not bad. They can help your audience take you in before you start to speak. Let them complete their pre-judgement of you without talking over them (lol). Give yourself at least 3-6 solid seconds of silence before starting. Look around the room, smile, gather your composure, and then go.
And once you get going, don’t be afraid to pause after each point or section. Watch a speaker such as Barack Obama. Whether you like his policies or not, he has a good understanding of public speaking. Do you see him rushing between points? Rarely. The pauses helps with the flow of his speech as well as gives the audience time to absorb what was said.
Slow down. Relax. Pause. Then go.
"Chunking" And The Memory Palace
I like to use the Memory Palace to remember my main talking points.
Not to memorize word for word, but just the main points. It’s supremely effective. Get this! It can also help with the initial memorization, especially when coupled with “chunking.”
To get a grasp of the Memory Palace, check out this excellent TED Talk by Joshua Foer.
What I mean by “chunking” is to separate something large into smaller sections.
“Chunking” can be effective if you first write out on paper the thing that you must memorize. In the case of a poem, perhaps the lines are written in couplets. Chunk each couplet on the page (circle the 2 lines or make it into one part that can more easily be remembered when you get to the memorization stage).
In a poem that has 6 lines, by chunking the couplets you’ve cut it to 3 sequential pieces. Then, you can memorize the first one, then the second, and finally the third.
A final step to put it all together would be to put each of the 3 chunked pieces into 3 separate rooms in your Memory Palace, and to associate a wild symbol (or whatever wild visual representation you choose) with each chunk.
From there it’s time to use good old fashioned repetition, preferably saying them aloud as much as you can until you memorize the hell out of it.
Even the most experienced speakers feel the effects of speech anxiety. They’ve learned to manage it and even use it to their advantage (energy!). Breathing is the cement foundation needed to build that control.
In regards to memorizing, if you can avoid it, my advice is to not memorize your words word for word. As the question originator explained, this might not always be an option. These tips can help make memorization more viable.
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About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life and it can change yours, too. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.