Almost all of us experience fear of public speaking to one degree or another; and one of the most common things that people are afraid of is that they’ll be talking to an audience and forget what they want to say. I always try to remind people (and myself) that a presentation isn’t something that you want to memorize any more than you would want to memorize a conversation that you’d have with your husband, your mother, or your best friend.
Instead of trying to deliver a memorized speech– which almost always comes across as boring or phony anyway– you’re much better off creating a presentation that has a natural flow to it where you can easily recall your main ideas and just fill in the details as you’re speaking. Your talk will seem more natural, conversational, and be much more likely to hold your audience’s attention than something that seems “canned.”
Of course not memorizing your presentation doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be able to recall its broad outlines. What’s your opening? What examples are you going to use? How will you close and send your audience back to the comparatively dull world of their everyday lives?
I always suggest that people create their presentations in a narrative format, that they organize them as stories in order to help make them easier to remember and more engaging for their audiences. Picking the right narrative format can instantly give your presentations structure. Are you telling a before and after story? The history of a project? A tale of overcoming adversity? Use any of those forms for your talk and your audience will have a much easier idea understanding what you’re talking about. Our brains are built to organize information through narrative; stories allow us to make sense of information, help us remember things and, above all, entertain us.
Just think about the powerful ways that stories are etched on our brains through the nursery rhymes, religious stories and episodes of Gilligan’ Island that we experienced as kids. These are things that you’ll never forget. Try to take advantage of some of that power any time you can by using storytelling in your presentations.
For more on how creating stories can be used to shape memory, check out Joshua Foer’s story Secrets of a Mind Gamer: How I Trained My Brain and Became a World-Class Memory Athlete. It’s fascinating stuff (even if it isn’t directly about presentation skills) about how participants in memory competitions still use ancient techniques to build powers of memory that seem superhuman to “normals” like us. It’s not a short article, but there is even a longer version available in his book Moonwalking with Einstein if you’re interested.