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QuickBite: Am I Supposed to Memorize My Presentation?

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “Am I supposed to memorize my presentation?”


My standard — and slightly confusing — answer is, “No … and yes … but mostly no.”


Let me explain.


Memorizing your entire presentation is not recommended, nor is it reasonable. Why?


First, memorizing a presentation verbatim, especially a long presentation, takes too much time and is nearly impossible. And when you couple this with the fact that most of us go about in the wrong way to begin with, then the likelihood of your success is low.


Second, if somehow you are successful at memorizing your presentation, when you deliver it, it’s going to be rather lifeless. The odds are high that your delivery will be monotone and lack changes in inflection, tone, and pace.


But let’s say you are able to memorize it and learned to deliver it well … that’s great, right? No, it’s not … and here’s why. When it comes time to present it to your audience, your adrenaline will be coursing through you, and you won’t be as relaxed as you were when you were practicing. Consequently, you’ll forget a word, phrase, or statistic. And when you do, you’ll be lost. And when you get lost, you’ll get flustered or nervous … and that benefits no one.


So, what do you do? The answer is simple. You memorize three things – 1: your attention-grabbing opening, 2: your compelling conclusion, and 3: the topics of the points you want to talk about in the body of your presentation.


Why these? Well, your opening and closing are the usually most critical elements of your presentation. The opening grabs your audience’s attention, and your closing calls them to action. Because of this importance, you want these portions of your presentation to be powerful – not necessarily long, but powerful. And since they’re usually brief, they’re easy to memorize.


And there is an additional benefit to memorizing your opening. Since you’re likely to be most nervous when beginning your presentation, knowing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to deliver, it helps ease your nerves.


This brings us to the points you want to make. When you develop your talk, you’ll flesh out your talking points. And by rehearsing your talk, you’ll get to know what you want to say about each of these points. But don’t try to memorize every word. Simply, remember the topic of each point, and when it comes time to present, you just have to remember the topics and then deliver the essence of each.


You might be thinking, at this point, that there is something you need to memorize — long quotes or passages. Well, no, you don’t.


Because you’re quoting what someone else said or wrote, you want to be exact, I agree. And this is where a notecard comes in handy.


In large type, print the quote, or whatever it may be, on the card. When it comes time to deliver it, read it from the card. And this part is important … be sure to practice this when rehearsing, because, even though you’re reading, you want to deliver it as it had been originally intended.


As I wrap this up, remember this … not having to memorize your entire presentation does not mean you don’t have to rehearse it. Rehearsing is a key factor in the difference between someone who gets up and speaks to an audience and someone who connects with their audience and serves them well.


Strive to be the second kind of presenter.