Memorize? Cram? Recite? Nope. Own your talk.

Navigating from the start to finish

Navigating from the start to finish

Memorize? Cram? Recite? Whatever you want to call it, speakers create words and then say those words away from the space where they created them. How do you bridge from creation to speaking? In shorter form talks such as Ignite, TEDx, and investor pitches, every moment counts, so it’s essential to carefully craft your talk before you give it.

After you have landed on your content, you are holding your gem of a script in your hands. You want to do more than stand on stage and read it from paper. You want to connect. To inspire. To impact your audience so they think and feel new things when you’re done. It’s time to memorize.

But wait...memorizing is perhaps not what we are aiming for. The word “memorize” reminds me of my daughter in her physiology class with door-stopper thick stacks of flash cards of Latin words for body systems. She held the multisyllabic words in her head just until the test, and then moved on. What does she recall 2 years later? Well, she says she certainly wouldn’t get an A on the test today.

But...do you ever forget the words to the song “Happy Birthday?” How many times have you heard it?  Sung it? Could you sing it woken up at 3 in the morning? Of course you could.

Let’s talk instead about owning your talk. Mastering it. Embodying it. So you could be awoken at 3 in the morning and you know it.

Here are my top 10 methods for moving from paper to the stage:

  1. Take away method

    • Make a copy of your script

    • Highlight/bold the most important words to you ( main points or transition words you’ve chosen carefully)

    • Delete phrases you know already or don’t need

    • Practice saying it as you glance at the key words and read the rest as needed

    • Make another copy

    • Delete phrases you know already or don’t need

    • Practice saying it as you glance at the key words and read the rest as needed

    • Repeat until you just have the list of key words

    • Finally cut down the key words

  2. Listen to it

    • Record yourself reading the talk

    • Listen repeatedly

  3. Listen and fill in

    • Record yourself reading the talk s l o w l y

    • Speak along with your talk, but try to say lines slightly before the recording

  4. Write it

    • Keep a copy of your talk nearby, but not in front of you

    • Hand write out your talk. Yep. Pen. And. Paper.

    • When you come to a stuck place, don’t grab the written copy immediately

    • Sit for a breath and make your brain struggle to arrive at the next concept

    • Looking at the copy after your brain has been searching for it means that you will retain it more deeply

  5. Play with time

    • See how slowly you can say your talk

    • See how quickly you can say your talk

    • See how your brain is worked by doing this and just saying it normally is so much easier now!

  6. Play with space

    • Say your talk in the car

    • In the bathroom

    • In the largest space you can find

    • Out side

    • etc.

  7. Draw it

    • Get some note cards

    • Draw a picture of each section/story/transition of your talk out on it’s own card

    • Stick figures are celebrated!

    • Bonus points if someone else could look at the card and tell you what it’s about

    • Double bonus if they giggle

    • Practice talk by looking at each card instead of script

  8. Shuffle it

    • Take cards created (see #7) and shuffle them

    • Pick a card...any card

    • Practice saying the section/story/transition on the card

    • Place them in reverse order and practice that way

    • Bonus points if you pronounce all of the words backward as well

    • ...just kidding


  9. Watch it

    • Video yourself

    • Watch the video

    • I promise you won’t die

    • You will learn a lot

    • How connected are you to the audience? Eye contact? Open body posture?

  10. Think it

    • Very very occasionally, I have had a client who honestly really truly couldn’t memorize. These are always very bright people, and I don’t know how their brains are different, but they have reported that their whole lives they have not been able to memorize. (Humans are fascinating!) These folks have been able to eloquently think and talk their way through the world and can think their way through their talk as well

    • For these situations, you will create a suspension bridge in your mind of your talk

    • Know the beginning and the ending - the two shores (anchorages)

    • Know the points along the way - which towers hold up your talk?

    • Think and explain your way from pillar to pillar - cables

    • This is actually a great format for everyone, but it is essential for non-memorizers



Your mission should you choose to accept it: Own your talk so completely that when you are on stage, your attention can be on the audience instead of what’s in your own head. How are they reacting? Do you need to slow down or speed up? Do you have time for more gestures and pauses for laughter?

Build your content, own it, and then as you stay connected to your audience, you will leave them with an experience they won’t soon forget.


Margaret Watts Romney