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Stand Up and–Toast! To Memorize Your Presentation or...Not!

In a business presentation, knowing your subject trumps memorization every time.

You have been asked to deliver a 30-minute or even a 60-minute presentation. You may consider memorizing it. Don't give in to that temptation! In the business world, word-for-word memorization is not practical, and may even hurt your credibility as an expert.

Memorization requires extra time; yet in many organizations, presentations are often scheduled on short notice, by customer request. Add to that, it requires extra rehearsal time to make memorized material sound natural. If you are nervous about speaking in front of a group, it is more likely that you will forget your exact wording, resulting in either in awkward silences, or in leaving out key information. Plus, if there is Q&A involved, it is unlikely that you can anticipate your audience’s questions, and you will appear less knowledgeable.

What can you do instead? Darren LaCroix, the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, a speech competition of Toastmasters International, has spoken locally at several Toastmasters conferences. He advises speakers to internalize their message: in other words, know your content well enough that it becomes second nature. 

To avoid the need to memorize:

  • Become a subject matter expert in your presentation topics, whether or not you have a presentation scheduled. Knowing your topic allows you to recover quickly from interruptions–unlike a speaker that I witnessed, who was not able to even acknowledge a fire alarm that went off mid-speech!
  • Create an outline to ensure that you organize your knowledge. For each point in your outline, decide which supporting stories and facts you want to use, but only use bullets to document them.
  • For longer presentations, there’s no harm in referring to your outline while you speak, in the form of index cards or high-level slides as reminders–but don't read to your audience.
  • Practice! Just because you do not memorize your presentation word for word does not mean that you should not rehearse.

I recently returned from a conference at which I presented eight sessions in three days, with an average timeslot of 75 minutes. I did not memorize any of these talks. While I was very familiar with my topics, the lack of a detailed script allowed me to have a dialogue with the attendees and take questions without getting derailed. 

Of course, there are a few situations that call for memorization, primarily for staged effects, such as humorous punch lines. For business purposes, if you memorize anything in your presentations, consider limiting it to your opening and your closing statements–and, of course, any quotations!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Atul Nayak March 22, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Very nice tips! Thank you for sharing.
Atul Nayak March 22, 2012 at 07:30 PM
One way to internalize data could be to try and generate a visual representation of the data. The process of creating a chart, graph or diagram helps me understand data better, and sometimes I come up with a nice visual for my presentation!
Birgit Starmanns March 22, 2012 at 09:51 PM
That's a great point, Atul! A graph or diagram is always better for a presentation than words!

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