PUBLIC SPEAKING WITH CONFIDENCE USING A SIMPLE MEMORY TECHNIQUE


Historical records suggest that the art of public speaking originated in ancient Greece. Members of the society that strived for success in political or judicial roles needed to master their oratory skills.


Even during the aforementioned era, much like the present, there already existed groups of individuals, the Sophists, who purveyed an oratory system that utilized philosophy and rhetoric combined with a greater understanding of words that would sway an audience.  


The purpose of this article is not to focus on the prose, terms and specific topic, but to instead introduce a powerful system that allows the practitioner to deliver a long speech without using notes.


Delivering a speech without the use of notes, or without constantly referring to an external source, allows the speaker to provide his full attention to the audience and to focus all his energy into the physical aspects of delivery. Consequently, the speaker sounds more convincing rather than appearing to be mechanically reading through an impersonal essay or PowerPoint slides.  


Coincidently, the origin of the memory technique (the Loci System) discussed in this article is also commonly attributed to an ancient Greek, a poet named Simonides of Ceos. The crux of the technique is to use information about physical locations that are already known to the practitioner, and then to attach new information to the objects that are contained in said locations. The application of this method to public speaking is illustrated in the procedure below:


  1. Write Your Speech. It is recommended that you first write your speech—doing so allows greater control and precision around the wording that would ultimately be used, and it fixes the order in which the speech will be delivered. If you do not wish to write out the speech word-for-word, a simple list of the key points is sufficient, though considered inferior.
  2. Identify the Key Words. For each key concept, typically per paragraph of your written speech, circle the key word that best reminds you of the concept. It should be just one word or an expression.
  3. Choose a Locus. After Step 2 you should be left with a list of key words that must be committed to memory. In order to do so you must first choose a location. It can be your house, the journey to work or any other physical location you are familiar with—the only criteria is that the size of the location should be large enough to contain the key words highlighted (see example).
  4. Peg the Key Words to the Objects in the Locus. Following your journey through the selected location, begin by attaching the first key word to the first monument (or object) contained in your physical position. The approach utilised to glue the information is the simple act of soliciting exaggerated nonsensical imagery: actions and depictions of events that seldom occur in reality.
  5. Review. Repeat the journey mentally (and review images contained within) a couple of times to ensure that the information was stored
  6. Practise/Test with the Speech In Front of You. If you have written the speech: whilst you have the written material in front of you, present the key points from memory and then glance at the wording you actually used in the written material. Test whether you orated with the words you had initially intended to use. If you did not, repeat the same paragraph until it is delivered as was intended in the written speech, and only then move to the next paragraph. With each paragraph that you master, review all the ones before it on the same page.
  7. Recall. Once you are comfortable with the wording, all that is necessary is for you to mentally travel through your selected location, pick-up the key words you placed, deliver the message with the wording you intended, and then move on to the next object and key word there placed, etc.
  8. Practise Out Loud. You should perform the speech a couple of times out loud when you are alone (or to friends) before finally delivering to the intended audience.
  9. Backup Plan. Given the common fears and anxieties surrounding public speaking, which even prompts many to wrongly believe they suffer from glossophobia, it is important to arrive prepared and use precautions to provide added security and comfort. Therefore, it is advisable to bring along the fully written speech or, at least, the list of key words. This way, if at any point a concept becomes elusive to conscious recall, it can easily be recovered by stealing a quick glance at the speech or key words. Having it resting on the lectern or podium is the ideal situation: even if it is not used, it still provides the added security and confidence—which ultimately enhance the performance.


The following example should illustrate the simplicity and effectiveness of the process:


Let us assume one intended to orate on the aptly (given the origin of the method) chosen topic of the European Debt Crisis. Suppose the speaker had already written out the speech and circled the key words as indicated in the steps above. All that remains is to use the Loci System to commit the concepts to memory. The following key words were the first five circled in the speech:


PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), euro, solvency, banking-collapse, Basel.


To illustrate the approach, let us imagine that the speaker’s journey from home to work contains the following significant monuments in their order of their appearance:


A rose garden, a haunted house, a bar, McDonald’s, a petrol station.


All that remains is to use exaggerated nonsensical imagery to peg each key word from the speech to its corresponding item in the loci. The first key word is PIGS, and it needs to be pegged to a rose garden, which is the first item in the locus. Simply imagine a rose garden that is full of roses that all have gigantic PIGS instead of petals. Visualize this image vividly and exaggerate the proportions: make it absurd, the more so the better the memory will be absorbed.


Moving on to the second key word, euro, which needs to be pegged to a haunted house. Perhaps visualize a gigantic worn-out euro coin stepping out of the haunted house, picking up the newspaper that is on the driveway, and then going back inside.  


The third key word is solvency, and it needs to be pegged to a bar. Perhaps visualize an industrial solvent (in a metal container) leaning over the bar asking the bartender for a non-alcoholic beverage.


The fourth key word is banking-collapse, which needs to be pegged to McDonald’s. Perhaps visualize several bank buildings sitting outside of McDonald’s, eating their happy meals, whilst all of a sudden Ronald McDonald comes out and ferociously shoves them, which causes them to knock against each other— leading to a domino effect that ends in their collapse.


The final item is Basel, which should be pegged to a petrol station. Simply visualize a driver stopping over to refill his tank, only instead of petrol, the nuzzle exudes gigantic basil leaves.   


In order to recall the key words, all that is necessary is to mentally travel through the chosen location and view the sights/monuments along the way. The images will immediately emerge to provide you with the key word that comes next. It is important to highlight that the location above was invented merely for the exposition of the technique; the reader is recommended to use locations that are familiar to him or her.


The example above only illustrates the most basic features of the Loci System. The technique has been refined substantially over the last two millennia, with modifications that allow for more information to be captured within each locus, as well as specific rules that allows one to organise the information most efficiently for future recall. For a complete instruction on the topic as well as other powerful memory techniques—with abundant practical applications—the reader is referred to The Manual: A Guide To The Ultimate Study Method (Second Edition), by Rod Bremer.















(For more about The Manual, see here.)

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