I learned this the hard way. In the beginning I attempted to memorize my speeches. It gave me some comfort knowing I had internalized all the words I would need to say. But boy it took me hours to accomplish this even for a 5-minute speech.
I did this until one day I was crafting a humorous speech entitled, "Why?" when I realized I didn't have to know my speech word-for-word. This speech, which could also have been called, "Kids Ask the Darnedest Questions!", was made up of 5 science-related questions kids ask that often stump adults:
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why isn't pink in the rainbow?
- Why don't birds get electrocuted when they sit on power lines?
- Why don't fish get electrocuted when lightning strikes the ocean?
- Why is the ocean salty?
After doing some research to learn the answers, it dawned on me that all I needed to remember were a few facts in order to answer these questions for my audience, for example: higher-frequency blue light scatters more in the atmosphere than lower-frequency red light and that pink is not a monochromatic color. But instead of memorizing my speech word-for-word, I just relaxed and relied on knowledge my ability to explain the answers to the 5 questions. I was simply "myself" using a conversational tone and pulling out my science-y facts when necessary.
The reason why this is a useful approach for ALL your speeches and presentations is that, while you may not be answering "Why is the sky blue?", you will likely be answering some question or telling some story. Perhaps you're explaining "Why did sales decline 4% last quarter?" Or maybe you're pitching your company's services and are telling the story of how the founders started the company out of a 10x10 storage room.
You KNOW these things. Yes, at the very least you should of course know your material. And when it's your turn to speak simply tell your story or explain the answer.
In my next post I will give you some quick hints on how to give yourself some structure and/or memory cues so that you can deliver more smoothly and with less worry about forgetting vital information.