It’s the big day! Time is running out and you have yet to work on memorizing your speech. The only problem is, you’re due to give your presentation very soon. In fact, you have less than an hour to go. What do you do? I get emails asking me all the time if it is possible to memorize a speech in only an hour. Today, I am going to tell you how it can be done with a simple tips and tricks.
How do you memorize a speech in less than an hour? Instead of memorizing your speech word-for-word, work off of an outline. Create a “memory palace” in your imagination to help recall key facts easier. Visualize images that you can associate with parts of your speech.
Are you are still worried about how you’re going to memorize your speech in one hour? Put your worries aside, because we are going to dive deep into this topic today. And I will have you mastering memorization techniques in no time. We’ve only got an hour, so let’s jump right in!
As a side note, I wrote a short article about the best public speaking books for those who want to become better speakers. Check out these books here.
Table of Contents
How to memorize a speech in less than an hour
Have you ever sat in the audience at a presentation by one of your favorite speakers, and found yourself enthralled by them? You sit hanging on their every word, and you wonder to yourself how you could ever be as good a speaker as they are. And if they are reading without notes, you may be wondering how on Earth they memorized that speech. But everyone is human. And chances are, they did not memorize an entire script word-for-word. Your favorite speaker may be improvising more than what you think.
And when everyone is giving a speech, everyone must also learn the steps of how to memorize what they’re going to talk about. Whether you are using notes or no notes, you want to know how to memorize your topic in an hour or less.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that you are not going to be speaking at your engagement while reading a full script. After all, if you have a full script, what do you need to memorize anything for?
Ideally, you won’t be memorizing a full script anyway. There is evidence that shows that writing a full speech word-for-word can sound less than authentic. Not to mention, it is also much harder to remember a full manuscript than it is to remember key bullet points.
Memorizing Your Speech Helps Increase Audience Engagement
When you aren’t looking down at a script or note cards the entire time, you are free to engage the audience. You can give eye contact, use descriptive gestures, move around the stage, and anything else you can imagine!
These things help you connect more freely with your audience during your presentation. After all, these things make you look like more of a human being and less of a pre-programmed robot.
However, if you ended up on this page somehow because you are interested in using notes during your speech, be sure to check out my comprehensive guide here about speaking with notes.
Stay Calm, No Matter the Circumstances
There might be a lot on your mind when you think about memorizing a speech to give in front of an audience. And it is a well-known fact that most people have a fear of speaking in public. But if you let your anxiety get the better of you, then you will find it much harder to be able to recall anything you are trying to memorize. If you get too nervous, your mind may even blank, and you could end up forgetting your entire speech altogether.
Make sure that you are hydrated, well-fed, and well-rested before your speech. If you are starting to get nervous, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down. Try to take a confident stance, since this can help you feel less anxious in front of your audience.
Start by Working From an Outline
No matter how you are giving your speech, you should always start with an outline. If you have an outline prepared before you start the process of memorization, that is best. If you do not have an outline or any notes or anything to prepare you, take some time to sit down and draw a tentative outline with a pencil and piece of paper.
Remember, an outline is not a full script! You are only writing out the ideas and topics that you are planning to talk about. You are also writing a general order that you plan to cover these topics in. The order of your topics is up to you. If you order things in a way that allows one thing to flow naturally into another, you will have an easier time recalling key facts and ideas.
Your outline can be as in-depth as you want it to be. Or it can be just as simple as you want it to be, too. If you choose a simple approach, you can go with bullet points that illustrate each part of your speech.
For example, you would write down something like:
Ideally, you should use very specific keywords that help you remember what you were speaking about. And it is okay to write some descriptive language next to your words! This will help you during the memorization process.
A good reason why you may plan in this way is to allow yourself more freedom to be spontaneous during your speech. For example, saying you get to “marketing”, and you think of something great to say at the moment while you are onstage. This is the kind of freedom that you can’t get without a full script.
Remembering what order the bullet points are in your outline may be a challenge for you, but the following tips will help you with your overall memorization quest.
Once You Have Your Outline, Use it to Memorize Your Speech
The clock is ticking, so grab your outline and start reading through it! Now is the time to memorize your bullet points, and what you plan to say for each. Remember, you are pre-planning your general topics, and not what you are going to say word-for-word.
As you go through each bullet point, practice out loud what you are going to say to your audience. This practice will help you commit your ideas to memory faster than reading a word-for-word script. As you practice, look into the mirror so that you can keep an eye on your body language.
You may find that incorporating certain hand gestures and movements may help you remember certain things that you want to speak about. (And if you need more advice for speaking with your hands, see my article here.)
While you are reading through your outline, now is also the time to assign descriptive imagery, or a useful “memory palace” to the things that you want to remember to say.
Visualize the Right Imagery to Help You Remember
Did you know our memory for imagery is better than our memory for words?
Images are very powerful triggers that help us remember things. If you are giving a PowerPoint presentation, some of your slides may be helpful in remembering key parts of your speech. However, you should not rely on your slides alone to memorize your presentation.
When you are practicing reading through your bullet points, visualize different images that go with different parts of what you are saying. Maybe for marketing, you will visualize a pie chart. And maybe if you are talking about insurance, you will picture an insurance salesman going from door to door in a small neighborhood.
To make your visual imagery most effective, try organizing the images in your mind to things that fit together. It is especially useful if the things you visualize go together with the topics that you are talking about. If you picture things like a flowing story-line, this may help you remember the order of things you were talking about with ease.
What Is a “Memory Palace” and Does it Help Memorization?
When you are trying to memorize a speech in an hour, a memory palace can be a lifesaver. But what is a memory palace, and how do you create one? This technique has been around for thousands of years. In fact, Shakespeare has used it. It was also referred to in works by Sherlock Holmes.
The “memory palace” can be thought of as mentally building a home for yourself. The “furniture” in your home is the key parts of your speech that you want to remember to talk about. And while it can take an average of 20 minutes or so to build a memory palace in your mind, it can be incredibly worth it for when you want to recall that information. And, it takes less than an hour!
You could also imagine yourself walking through a familiar location. All of the items in your location correspond with different parts of your speech. Take what time you have to carefully assign the bullet points of your outline to different objects in your memory palace location.
Just remember, you can choose any location that you want for your memory palace. What may work best for you may not for another speaker and vice versa.
And then as you are onstage, just picture yourself walking through your memory palace. This will help you remember key facts faster than trying to memorize them word-for-word. As time allows, let yourself “walk through” your memory palace as many times as you can before your speech. This will help you increase the speed at which you can remember what you intended to say.
Try Timing Yourself During Your Practice
When you go to memorize your speech, do a quick run-through. That is, practice your speech out loud in the same way you would read it to the audience. Time yourself using a stopwatch. If you don’t have a stopwatch available to you, many modern smart phones have stopwatch technology built-in as part of an app.
Be prepared for a time limit
This is especially important if your speech has a time limit. After all, you don’t want to run too far over your time. And if you are supposed to be speaking for a certain amount of time, you don’t want your speech to run too short, either. It is good to know in advance how long you should be speaking for so you have time to adequately practice.
Instead of a stopwatch, you could also set a timer for a certain amount of time that you want to have your speech memorized by. An hour may not seem like much, but if watching the time tick down could be a big motivator for you to work harder to memorize the main details of your speech.
Just don’t let the time constraint make you nervous! Nervousness leads to forgetfulness. Whenever possible, just stay calm!
Make the best of your time
When you are trying to memorize a speech in a short time, make the best of your time. If you are only spending a few minutes on your speech, and the rest of your time scrolling through Facebook on your phone?
You are distracted, and multi-tasking is not conductive to proper memorization. Shut off your phone, stay in a quiet place, and get yourself away from all distractions. When time is of the essence, you must focus completely on what you want to remember.
There Are Some Simple Ways to Increase Your Overall Memory
If you want to make sure your memorization will be at it’s best, there are a few general things that you can do in order to increase your brainpower. Here are a few tips you can utilize:
Make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Exhaustion leads to forgetfulness, and sleep is the time when your brain helps to store long-term memories to your subconscious.
Regular physical exercise helps when you are trying to better your memory. If you have the time, it would be a good idea to get a little light exercise before your speech. And if you have room to move around a little onstage during your presentation, that would also be a good idea.
Hunger leads to more forgetfulness. Make sure you are eating a satisfying meal before your presentation, and even before you are trying to memorize your speech.
Remember: Alcohol Affects the Memory
If you are thinking of memorizing your speech while you are under the influence of alcohol, don’t do it. When you rely on your memory to get you through, you absolutely have to be sober at the time. This is something I remind students all the time, especially if they are college-aged.
While I always advise my students to give sober speeches, I realize that you may be memorizing your speech at a time when you are not about to go give it right afterward. Maybe you are trying to memorize it the night beforehand because you will be pressed for time the next morning. But if you are drinking that night and show up the next morning hungover? You may not be able to recall anything you were trying to memorize.
What to do in the Event if You Forget Part of Your Speech
It might sound like a nightmare to be up on the stage, and realize you can’t remember what you were going to say. Nightmare or not, it happens to all of us at some point. The first thing you need to know is that the audience is forgiving, and this is not the end of the world!
If you lost your place or realize that you forgot a key part of your speech, the first thing you should do is keep yourself calm; do not panic! Take a sip of water if you have any available, and take a few seconds to regain yourself. For many, just this moment of composure may help you remember what you were going to say.
But if you don’t regain your memory? Here are some things to try if that happens.
Go back to your last point
Try going back to what you were just saying, and try re-stating your last point. Once you get started talking, you may recall the next thing you were going to say. If re-stating your last point doesn’t help, then try going back to the beginning and re-stating the main point that you started your speech with.
Interact with your audience!
Try taking a few questions in the mean-time, which might be able to help you think of your forgotten words. You can also be honest with your audience by gently laughing and saying you lost your place. Someone just may be able to shout-out and telling you what you were saying.
It is good to be honest, and your audience will enjoy seeing that you are relatable and human. Just be sure to be professional about it.
Back to the memeory palace
Try to tap back into your memory palace, or picture what your visual imagery is that you worked on memorizing earlier.
Keep talking, and moving forward. If you keep talking, this may help you circle around again and remember what you were going to say. This may be a good time to improvise.
Make a joke
Think of a joke to lighten the mood, and relax you a little bit. This may relieve some of your anxiety and help get your brain feeling comfortable enough to remember again. If you feel confident enough, you can also joke about losing your place.
Make a pause
Make use of a pause, just as long as you don’t get stuck and look like you’re freezing up indefinitely. (read more about 13 Effective Ways How to Make Speech Pauses)
Let yourself forget
When in doubt, just keep moving forward and let yourself forget. If you’ve tried a handful of things and you still can’t remember, you might just have to let something go. Nobody is perfect and there are always bound to be mistakes made. Don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes, and allow yourself to learn from them.
Remember, everyone forgets things from time to time. I have even fallen victim to forgetting what I was going to say when I’m onstage. Try not to worry about the possibility that you may forget something. Instead, focus on staying positive! Positivity is much more conducive to memorization, anyway.
Conclusion: How to memorize a speech in less than an hour
Some of the tactics we described using were creating a helpful outline, utilizing a memory palace, practicing your memorization sober, and more. Do you have any other techniques you would like to recommend for memorizing a speech in less than an hour? You can feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section.
Do you feel like you are getting better at memorizing your speeches, but you still would like some more tips on how to speak like a pro? Go here to read 27 tips from seasoned speaking pros!
Is it better to memorize my speech or use notes? Ask the venue you are speaking at if you are allowed to use notes. There is nothing wrong with using notes, or not using notes. Try practicing both ways and see which you like better. Ask a trusted friend or mentor which method they recommend.
How long does it take to memorize a speech? With the right practice methods, it is possible to memorize a speech in an hour or less. However, if you have more time available than that, you might want to use all the time available to you in order to properly memorize your speech.
What can I do to improve my memory? Decrease alcohol consumption. Get adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise on a daily basis to improve your memory. Do what you can in order to decrease your stress levels. Regular laughter and time spent with family and friends can help with memory recall, as well.