During a workshop recently, a client told me “The president of our company speaks without any notes. It’s amazing.”

There is something impressive about standing in front of a group of people and giving a presentation without notes. There’s a sense of true mastery and authority that isn’t there otherwise.

But how do you remember everything to say in the right order?

You might try relying on a “memory palace.”

I learned about “memory palaces” from the recent best seller “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer.

The book tells the author’s amazing story of spending a year studying for and then winning the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship. In winning the championship, Foer memorized a shuffled deck of playing cards in 1 minute 40 seconds, a U.S. record at the time.

But the author was no savant. He says he had a lousy memory.  He writes “I’m not sure if I know more than four phone numbers by heart.”

This fascinating book is about the history and application of a series of memory techniques that anyone can learn and that Foer used in winning his championship.

How do these techniques work?  Says Foer, you “take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t good at holding on to and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for.”

For example, our brains were built for remembering locations — like the rooms in a house.  That’s the basis of an ancient technique called the “memory palace.”  Storytellers as far back as Homer have used it.    The idea is that you take a house or “palace” that you know intimately and use it as a mental storage system. You can use your memory palace to memorize shopping lists, telephone numbers or, your personal calendar.

To memorize a speech, transform the points into a series of memorable images. Then you deposit those images on a logical tour of your house. To remember the points, just walk through the house in your mind and retrieve the images.
Let’s say that you want to start a presentation about anti-trust laws with a story of how executives went to jail.  To remember how to start, place an image of an executive in leg irons – the stranger the image the more memorable – at the front door of your house.   If there are details about the story that you want to remember, store them with odd images in the closet just inside your front door.

For your second point, go to another room in your house, preferably one near the front door, perhaps the kitchen.

Perhaps the second point involves a discussion of the prohibition of discussing pricing with competitors.

You can imagine Coke and Pepsi bottles seated at the kitchen table discussing the price of corn syrup.  If you have sub-points, imagine memorable relevant images and store them in the drawers and cabinets of your kitchen. When it’s time to hit a particular point, just open the drawer to find an image to jog your memory.

You can have dozens of points all placed with memorable images in rooms and closets and drawers throughout the house.

Of course, you don’t become a great speaker simply by storing your speech in a memory palace. You need to repeatedly walk through that palace and retrieve the images. You need to practice.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

Joey Asher

President of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. He has worked with hundreds of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or joey@speechworks.net

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