For many, the idea of delivering a presentation or speech completely from memory is out of the question. Public speaking is difficult enough. Now you want me to take the training wheels off? That's just crazy.
But the truth is, speaking from memory is not as difficult as it seems-if done right. The benefits are great: In addition to increasing your connection with the audience, it inspires confidence and establishes you as an authority.
So how can you memorize a presentation effectively? Here are three steps to get you there:
1. Organize your thoughts
Your presentation should follow a logical order and make sense-not just to you in your head, but to everyone listening to you. In most cases, you should develop your presentation so that a 12-year old could easily follow and understand it. (Think about the best teachers and presenters-they're always able to simplify the most complicated things.)
When your points are well organized and transition fluidly, they become much easier to remember (and follow).
2. Get it on paper
It takes time to commit something to memory. Even if you're an expert on a subject, at times you'll have to speak about aspects with which you are less familiar. And speaking in front of a new audience is much different from speaking to those in your comfort zone.
When you write out your presentation, you begin to commit it to memory. You don't want to write it in a word-for-word manuscript; rather, make an outline with specific points or thoughts. Seeing your thoughts visually helps your mind to absorb them-gradually and painlessly.
But then you must...
3. Practice, practice, practice
The first couple of times, feel free to look at your notes the entire time; don't worry about looking up to practice audience contact. After the third or fourth dry-run, you naturally begin to look up more, since you will have instinctively memorized much of the talk.
After once or twice more, you'll find that most of the presentation is memorized. Now you don't even need notes to practice, and can take advantage of various times throughout the day (e.g., while traveling or waiting at the doctor's office) to rehearse.
When it comes time to deliver your presentation live, there's nothing wrong with having a few notes with you-in case of emergency. But by using this method, you won't be dependent on them.
Remember: The key is not to memorize the presentation verbatim. You want to be as natural as possible. There's nothing wrong with saying it a little bit differently every time-in fact, that's what you want. You'll be more authentic and better able to adapt to your audience. The goal is to memorize all of your points and examples and to deliver them in the proper order.
And if you forget one or two things, who cares? You're the only one who will ever know.
Like anything, the art of giving effective presentations is a craft that requires hard work. But presenting from memory isn't an unreachable goal. By using the method above, along with a little diligence and patience, you can get your point across clearly, naturally, and with confidence.