Almost 10 years ago now, when I re-joined Toastmasters (to re-build my self-confidence), I would spend hours memorizing my speeches. We were told to rehearse an hour for each minute of the speech: Seven minutes therefore required seven hours of rehearsal.
In today’s fast-paced world, that kind of time is very difficult to find. And is it an efficient use of time? I don’t think so.
The other problem with it is that your passion for the subject during delivery just disappears. That’s because your focus is entirely on remembering the words. You’re simply reciting something you were likely passionate about when you wrote it, but now your focus is on getting it right word-for-word. Your performance will suffer tremendously.
I remember often spending several hours going over and over a speech until I had it pretty-well memorized. But what would invariably happen is that I’d lose my place during the speech and couldn’t remember what the next sentence or paragraph was. I was memorizing words and lines; I wasn’t mentally associating thoughts and the flow of the talk itself.
What do I mean by that?
Well, what I learned to do was to break the talk down into specific points and to visualize in my mind how these thoughts were connected. And then I would visualize myself delivering these segments. I would do this several times during the day of the speech (in Toastmasters, speeches are 5-7 minutes in length). Now I use that same technique to put together full day seminars in less than a day.
Let me assure you that you’re not likely to learn this technique overnight. Like anything else, it takes practice to become proficient. But there’s nothing like it when you have it mastered. It’s like sleep walking … you will be able to do the speech with your eyes closed!
There’s a technique called “Visualization and Association” (V&A). It’s easy to learn. This is a technique that can be used to remember names or facts.
What I do with speeches is a little different. Let me try and break it down into steps:
- First of all, I write out my speech – usually using a computer. Then I print it out and look at the structure on paper. I find I’m about to get “the big picture” on paper – to see how my points fit together, how it flows.
- I edit the speech until the flow is correct – until there’s a solidly logically sequence. Once I’m happy with it, I go to the visualization stage.
- The first step in visualizing for me it to mentally see the flow in my head. For example, I would visualize the first point and then how it connects to the second. So, let’s look at an example:
If I was persuading my boss (in a presentation situation with about a dozen people in the room), that we needed to purchase a new color printer and one of my points was that the old printer required a lot of maintenance, I would visualize the maintenance people working on the printer. If my next point was that the sales people would make more sales with a color printer, then I would visualize the salespeople in the board room surrounded by eye-popping, colorful charts. And I’d do the same thing with the subsequent points in the order I wanted to deliver them. In no time, I can very quickly play a movie of my presentation back in my head.
- The final step is to visualize myself actually giving the presentation and the gestures I might use, the props I would have on hand, and humor I might use. I would see myself in action, much the way Olympic athletes imagine themselves winning a gold medal before they compete.
Once I have this down in my mind, I can run segments of the movie when I have a minute of two of downtime throughout the day. When I deliver the presentation, I’m talking to the images more than I am reciting words. I can be as passionate as I want to be with those images in my mind, secure in the knowledge that the next one will pop up just when I need it.
Passion is a huge part of being persuasive. If you believe in what you’re delivering, you’ll have a much greater chance of having a positive impact on your audience. And you’ll have a lot more fun doing it.
So don’t memorize your talk; visualize it.