One of the most asked questions in public speaking has been, “Should I memorize my speeches word for word?” This is a good question, because actors memorize their lines and they are able to make sometimes millions for what they do. It’s easy for us to decide that we should memorize our speeches word for word as well.
I fell into this camp for years. A major reason I wanted to memorize my speeches was because what I wrote out was exactly what I wanted to say. I wanted to make sure that I, not only got my message right, but the nuances as well. I’ve heard experts say that some of the reasons you should not memorize is that when you lose your place, you’ll get confused and will have a harder time recovering. You will also have a hard time grasping at the words that you’ve scripted causing you to look down or have a blank stare as you try to remember. I haven’t had these problems, because as long as I rehearsed the speech enough, those problems disappeared.
However, I did have one problem that made me think there had to be a better way. Actors sound natural when they give their lines during a performance, because they’ve had years of training to help them. I’ve competed in speech contests many times, but I need many more years of training to be able to make the memorized performances seem completely natural. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m too far off with my performance, but it could be better and I just haven’t been able to get over that hump.
I came across the article, “Should You Memorize Your Toastmasters Speech,” written by the Public Speaking and Life Coach, Reid Walley which helped me put things into perspective. Reid went to the very best speakers in Toastmasters, the world champions. He found something very interesting. They all advocated memorization … sort of. They all called it internalization and there is a difference. They recommend starting with a script which they broke down into bullet notes. They practiced from those bullet notes until they could give the speech smoothly.
Here’s the difference. They “memorized” the speech, but not word for word. In fact, the way they practiced, they may give it slightly differently each time. This allowed them to keep the speech fresh and appear spontaneous. Many public speaking coaches outside of Toastmasters give the same advice although they may disagree on how much we should rehearse. Gary Genard tells us not to practice any less than three times and no more than five times. He tells us that this will help us keep the speech fresh and sounding spontaneous. Patricia Fripp tells us we should practice until we can give the speech smoothly and TED speaking coaches tell us to practice up to two-hundred times. My personal feeling is that you should try all of them in the safety of your local Toastmasters club and go with the one that works best for you. After all, each of these coaches are probably telling us what works best for them.