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How to memorize your TEDx talk

 By Dr. Steve Hayward

For as long as there have been human beings, there have been some who have had to memorize a talk. It’s something that has made people worried for thousands of years--where do you even start?

As you might imagine, this is a topic that comes up all the time. After we’ve helped our clients clarify and craft their ideas, make their pitches, and land their talks, it can seem as if the hard part is in the rear view mirror. That’s mostly true, but there’s one thing left--memorizing the talk. 

It’s for that reason that I decided to devote this month's blog to the question of memorization and to sharing the idea of what’s become known as the “memory palace” technique. It made a splashy appearance in an episode of Sherlock, but it’s actually one of the most time-tested techniques out there for committing anything to memory--including your TEDx talk or keynote speech. Even if it’s not required, the fact is that having your talk in your head is always a good idea. Our recommendation is that you move beyond memorization, so that you can be fully present in the moment, more focused on your audience, and not tied to your notes.

Also known as a "method of loci" the memory palace is a practice where you associate things you want to remember with specific locations in a familiar environment, such as your home, or another place you know well. 

After connecting particular items you want to recall with particular spaces in that place, the process of mentally "walking through" it and visiting each location helps you remember whatever it is you need to. It’s a technique that has been used for thousands of years, dating back at least to Ancient Rome and the orator Cicero (the GOAT of public speakers) who mentions in a speech that he seems to have memorized a story about a poet who was reciting a poem when the roof caved in. Afterwards, the poet was able to identify those who had been in  the disaster by recreating in his mind where they were sitting. Apologies for the gory detail but that’s the power of the memory palace--the people were associated with places and that’s what allowed the poet such exact recall afterwards.

It can work the same way with your talk, or anything you have to remember. Here’s how to do it.


Step#1: Chunk out your talk onto a set of cue cards.

The key here is to divide the speech into manageable sections, such as the introduction, problem statement, personal connection, and eventually the star moment when you drop that unforgettable insight that will make your audience laugh and cry and share it with everyone they know. The goal here is to break the talk up in a way that is logically connected and has enough detail so that it’s useful without getting too granular.


Step#2: Build your palace.

Choose a familiar environment, such as your home or office or anywhere that you know really well. This technique is one built on the fact that your brain is able to remember information more effectively when it is associated with a spatial context--an ancient idea that turns out to be also supported by neurological evidence which shows the brain uses spatial details to organize and remember new information. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that’s important for memory and spatial navigation, and that’s what gets activated when you imagine yourself moving through a place. In other words, the part of your brain you use when you close your eyes and imagine yourself walking into your apartment is the same part of your brain you use when you try to remember something. That’s the science behind why this works.


Step#3: Decorate your palace.

Associate each card with a place, and just as you chunked out your talk in a way that makes sense, do the same with your placement of the cards. Put each in a place along a natural path you walk on a daily basis. The introduction might be your front door, the problem statement the place where you hang up your coat or put your key, the conclusion could be the kitchen. As you associate each section of the speech with a location, try to create concrete and clear images to represent each stage of the talk--the more defined the image, the stronger it’s lodged in your memory and the more likely you’ll be to remember it.

It’s that simple--and time has told us that it can make a difference. The other thing that time is absolutely clear about is that there’s nothing like practice. Once you make your memory palace make sure you also make the time to live in it, to trace the path, recalling the different sections of the speech each time. The more you do, the better you will anchor the talk you have to the spaces you live in and be able to use that connection when it’s your time to step into the spotlight.

If you're ready to develop your signature or TEDx talk around which you’ll build your own memory palace, schedule a brainstorming call with us here.

- Dr. Steven Hayward is our head writer at GoodOne. Co. He is an English Professor at Colorado College, contributing writer for the New York Times, bestselling author, renowned filmmaker and has a great head of hair. 


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