Speaking in front of a crowd can be scary. In fact, research has found that glossophobia--the fear of public speaking--is the most common phobia among Americans, ahead of thanatophobia--the fear of death.
As Jerry Seinfeld points out in his standup routine, this means the average person going to a funeral "would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy."
But public speaking doesn't have to be so scary.
Ron White, a two-time national memory champion, says when you know your speech by heart and don't have to rely on note cards or reading a slideshow, "your confidence will skyrocket."
"This also allows you to maintain eye contact, being a more dynamic and powerful speaker," he explains. "You will appear more knowledgeable to your audience as well."
White says he learned this simple five-step process for memorizing and giving speeches about 25 years ago, and he still uses it today:
STEP 1: Write the outline for your speech.
Never write out a speech word for word, or try to memorize it word for word, White says. "It will sound corny or canned. You want a speech that sounds natural and flows."
Also, he says, when you only memorize the bullet points, this allows you the freedom to say something spontaneous that may turn out to be a great new addition to your speech.
"I typically just write out short phrases or a single word to remind me of what I want to talk about," he explains. For example, if he wants to give a speech on increasing profits, he might write out the 10 main ideas like:
• Increasing profit
• Time management
• Continuing education and growth
• Rewards for hitting goals
• Working smarter not harder
"Because it is my speech, these bullet points are all I would need to know to keep my thoughts on a stream," he says.
White explains that this step is no additional work. "If you were going to give a speech with notes you would do this anyway, because these would be what you'd write on your note cards. So the first step is to prepare as if you aren't going to use a memory system."
STEP 2: Create mental images for each bullet point.
Next you'll want to create mental images for each of bullet points "because the mind remembers pictures easier than words," says White.
He shared the mental images he'd use for his example bullet points:
• Increasing profit: dollar bills
• Time management: a clock
• Communication: a phone
• Continuing education and growth: a plant growing (for growth)
• Goals: a field goal
• Rewards for hitting goals: a "Wanted" poster with a reward
• Working smarter not harder: a brain
• Efficiency: an energy-efficient apartment
• Organized: a organizer/planner
• Team work: a sports team
STEP 3: Create a 'Mind Palace.'
In order to memorize anything, you need a place to store the data. "The best technique for this is the Mind Palace," White explains. This technique has been around for at least 2,500 years and is written about in the "Sherlock Holmes" books and utilized by Shakespeare in the Globe Theatre.
"It's where you visualize what you want to recall on furniture in your home," he explains.
White says it will take you about 20 minutes upfront to build a Mind Palace--meaning, to select pieces of furniture in your home or office. "But once you do that, you can use this Mind Palace for the rest of your life for so many other things," he explains.
To assign numbers to the furniture, you'll want to stand in the doorway of a room, start on your left, and move around the room clockwise numbering five large items.
In the first room, you'll number the furniture items 1-5; in the second room, number them 6-10; and so on.
STEP 4: Visualize.
Now you want to assign the images you associated with each bullet point to these items--but as you do this, you want to think of a smells, tastes, sounds, or feelings associated with each image for each piece of furniture.
"The more action and emotion, the better," says White.
For instance, if furniture item No. 1 is your couch, imagine the cushions are green and stuffed with money, and that they make the sound of paper being crumbled when you sit on them.
Do this for each bullet point and item, one through 10.
"This is how you memorize," says White. "You really want to see the images on the furniture. The more vivid you can make the images--by actually hearing the sounds of the water, tasting the food, feeling the heat of a fire, etc.--the better you will remember it."
Then, he says, when you give your speech and you are standing in front of the room with no notes in your hands, you'll be able to think back to your house and start mentally walking through your home. You'll see the couch stuffed with money and say, "Today I want to talk to you about increasing our profits."
STEP 5: Review and practice.
Review these items and images over and over in your mind until you know them, says White.
Give the speech at least once from memory to make sure the images work for you and they are enough, he suggests.
"Once you have this technique mastered you could give a speech that lasts for hours without notes. You can still use a Power Point as a visual aid, but it will no longer be a crutch for you."