When To Memorize A Speech

by Stephen Boyd | February 28, 2005

Memorizing a speech creates many challenges--having a memory block, sounding mechanical in delivery, and lacking rapport with the audience, to name a few. Besides, memorizing a speech simply takes too much time. Thus I recommend: do not memorize a speech!

However, as is the case with most general rules, there are exceptions. That is true about memorization connected to a speech. There are certain parts of a speech that will make you more effective if they are memorized.

Memorize the opening lines of your presentation. This will get you off to a good start. Your language will be specific and concrete to insure that the audience will listen to you. When you get off to a good start, your nervousness lessens and you are on your way to a successful presentation.

Memorize a joke or humorous story you are going to tell. Reading a joke to an audience just does not work. You need to be able to interact with the audience nonverbally as you tell something you hope they think is funny. What you can do with a short piece of material such as a joke is to memorize it and then practice it until it does not sound memorized.

In a persuasive speech, memorize the move to action step. You should know exactly what you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation. In fact, end with "What I want you to do as a result of my presentation is…." Know those words by heart. You will have confidence in your conclusion and will make eye contact with your audience as you deliver this final line.

Sometimes you should memorize transitions. If you have an abrupt change of direction in the middle of your presentation, you might choose to memorize the transition leading to your next point. Thus the audience will receive proper direction and not be confused. For example, in a speech on oral style, I might say, "We must realize that words don’t mean--only people who use them." Each word counts; I would memorize it.

Only under rare circumstances do I recommend memorizing any part of a speech; the above suggestions, however, should make you aware of possibilities for enhancing your effectiveness as a speaker.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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