Improve Your Memory And Learn To Speak In Public
Teachers of public speaking are always warning us in thunderous voices against memorizing speeches to learn speaking with confidence. When your improve your memory it helps greatly. Did you ever listen in agony to a man reel through a talk he had spent hours committing to heart? His whole attitude notifies you at once of three things: (1) that he is scared to death of you; (2) that he will consider himself lucky to be alive and breathing at the final period; (3) that he will be overwhelmingly grateful when the whole thing is over and he can make his escape.
And you, the audience, react in a perfectly natural and human manner: you are exasperated with him, irritated and resentful that he has forced you to witness his sufferings.
Yet the chances are that when it comes your turn to make a speech, you will make the same error. You will write out your talk beforehand, learn it all by rote, and recite it out loud until it has lost all of its freshness, all of its surprise, and all of its meaning.
Why do we persist in falling into this familiar trap when we know better? Simply because we are afraid of forgetting. We lie awake at night racking our souls with clammy visions of what will happen if we cannot remember the speech when we get up to deliver it. And we overlook the all-important fact that it is the content of the speech, the general outline, that we want to remember, and not the exact wording or the exact phrase.
Making a speech from a written outline, or from notes, is a little better than reciting from memory, but not much. Notes advertise the fact that you have prepared your speech in advance, and that destroys the happiest illusion with which a speaker can beguile his audience—the illusion that the entire talk is spontaneous, and has arisen as a sudden collaboration between the speaker and his listeners. This is an important point to consider when you learn speaking in front of a mature audience.
Now, naturally, talks must be prepared. You must know what you are going to say, what ideas you are going to get across, and what points you are going to cover. But the exact wording of these ideas should be left to the moment when you come face to face with your audience. What you say then may not pass the most rigid tests of grammar or oratory, but you will at least be natural, unstudied, and spontaneous. Remember, it is infinitely better to grope occasionally for a word, or to throw in a couple of “ers,” than it is to be flawlessly correct and sound like a well-rehearsed phonograph record. Your audience will forgive practically anything in the world, if you are human and interesting, but they will never forgive the inexcusable crime of boring them.
But if you’re not allowed to memorize your speech or read your talk, and you’re not permitted to use notes, how can you possibly mount that platform with the calm assurance that you will remember everything you wanted to say? By using your Mental Filing System and filing the outline of your talk on your mental hooks.
Does it work? Let me quote a passage from Dale Carnegie’s book, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, where he cites the method used by Mark Twain:
“The discovery of how to use his visual memory enabled Mark Twain to discard the notes that had hampered his speeches for years. Here is his story as he told it in Harper’s Magazine:
” ‘Thirty years ago I was delivering a memorized lecture every night, and every night I had to help myself with a page of notes to keep from getting myself mixed. The notes consisted of beginnings of sentences, and were eleven in number, and they ran something like this:
” ‘In that region the weather—
” ‘At that time it was a custom—
” ‘But in California one never heard—
” ‘Eleven of them. They initialed the brief of the lecture and protected me against skipping. But they all looked about alike on the page; they formed no picture; I had them by heart, but I could never with certainty remember the order of their succession; therefore, I always had to keep those notes by me and look at them every little while. Once I mislaid them; you will not be able to imagine the terrors of that evening which I partially experienced while trying to learn speaking. I now saw that I must invent some other protection.
So I got ten of the initial letters by heart in their proper order —I, A, B, and so on—and I went on the platform the next night with these marked in ink on my ten fingernails. But it didn’t answer. I kept track of the fingers for a while; then I lost it, and after that I was never quite sure which finger I had used last. I couldn’t lick off a letter after using it, for while that would have made success certain, it would also have provoked too much curiosity. There was curiosity enough without that. To the audience, I seemed more interested in my fingernails than I was in my subject; one or two persons asked afterwards what was the matter with my hands.
” ‘It was then that the idea of pictures occurred to me! Then my troubles passed away. In two minutes I made six pictures with my pen, and they did the work of the eleven catch-sentences and did it perfectly. I threw the pictures away as soon as they were made, for I was sure I could shut my eyes and see them any time. That was a quarter of a century ago; the lecture vanished out of my head more than twenty years ago, but I could rewrite it from the pictures—for they remain.’ “
Twenty-five years had passed, Mark Twain had long since forgotten the words he had used, but his mental images still remained so strong that he could reproduce that lecture from the pictures! If these pictures remained so strong after a quarter of a century, do you think there was any danger of his forgetting what he wanted to say while he was on the platform?
I myself am far from being a trained public speaker, yet I have given hundreds of lectures to clubs, corporations, and conventions all over the United States and Canada, and I have never used notes. I have trained dozens and dozens of businessmen to get up on their feet at conferences and conventions and remember what they wanted to say, without once having recourse to written notes or visible reminders. And without exception, these men have reported that the ability to talk straight to their associates, without having to fumble over bits of paper or shuffle with memoranda, has doubled the attention and respect of their audiences. That is only to be expected. There is something that is irresistibly compelling about the man who can look you straight in the eye and say what he wants to say, without hesitancy, and with purpose and assurance.
Some time ago, Congressman Harold Cooley of North Carolina delivered a speech before a group of industrialists, urging them to move their factories to North Carolina. Naturally, he had to point out to these manufacturers the special inducements his state has to offer as a home of industry. He spoke forcefully and convincingly, and without notes. Here are the points he covered:
The advantages North Carolina offers to industry are:
- Ample economical power.
- Moderate climate.
- Plentiful raw materials.
- Business-minded legislation.
- Efficient native-born labor.
- Excellent transportation facilities.
- Strategic location.
I mentioned that Congressman Cooley spoke without notes. That is because he used this Mental Filing System. Here is how he “visualized” each point:
- Ample economical power (alarm clock). Most alarm clocks are cheap articles to buy. They are economical. Winding them requires only the power of your arm muscles, of which you have an ample amount. There is always ample power to run an alarm clock by electricity, and it is economical to use.
- Moderate climate (trousers). See a pair of your summer trousers, made of white duck or linen. These are worn only in a moderate climate. You wear them climbing mountains.
- Plentiful raw materials (chair). The chair is built of knotted, unpainted, unplaned, raw wood, and is bound in rawhide. It is piled high and plentifully with raw fruit and vegetables, and there’s a piece of red raw meat resting on the raw materials. Moreover, it’s a racking chair.
- Business-minded legislation (table). A committee of the big businessmen of your city are arguing business problems around the table. They are busily wrapping their legs around the legs of the table, and telling each other to mind their own business.
- Efficient native-born labor (newspaper). See a newborn native baby lying on a copy of a labor paper, holding a fish. It looks like John L. Lewis, the labor leader.
- Excellent transportation facilities (automobile). The automobile is an excellent means of transportation; it facilitates transportation because it can go practically any where. Picture an automobile smashing up first a train, then a transport plane.
- Strategic location (policeman). A traffic policeman is always stragetically located so he can command all points. His legs are straddled over the location, and he directs local traffic. In enforcing the law, he must use strategy.
The following list will help you learn speaking in public without forgetting. This list is probably the most difficult in the book, for the points are abstract in meaning. But let’s see how many of them you can recall, after one careful reading: