Why Memorizing is a Dirty Word

Unless you’re a professional actor who is paid to learn his lines, identitydon’t try to memorize your presentations. Why put more pressure on yourself when you’re already anxious in front of an audience?

Memorizing is a no-win strategy. Instead of engaging with the audience when it’s time to speak, you’re inside your own head trying to remember your lines. It will be panic time if you forget your opener and scramble to fill the void.

Your audience will sense your discomfort and they will become uncomfortable, too. You certainly won’t gain the audiences’s confidence if you’re struggling for something to say while fidgeting and looking to the ceiling for help.

Own Your Content

Instead of memorizing your lines, rehearse your opening until you feel totally confident with your content. Own it and make it yours. Try out your opening on your boss or a colleague who can give you constructive feedback.

Record it, if possible, even with a smart phone so that you can see how you are coming across to an audience.

You don’t have to use the exact words every time. It’s more important to capture the flow of your material and practice your delivery – making eye contact with the audience and using gestures for emphasize.

There’s another problem with memorizing your lines. Something may happen in your organization or there is other breaking news that could change the context of your remarks. You won’t have time to memorize new content. You want to have the flexibility to make last minute changes with confidence.

Avoiding Disaster

Some time back, we had an assignment to coach executives with a global advertising agency to improve their presentations skills. The top creative people and their staffs gathered at an offsite to practice and have a little friendly competition.

Remember and Forget directions.  Opposite traffic sign.They divided into teams and each member had a role. During practice sessions, one of the young copywriters (let’s call him Jack) was trying to memorize his lines, even though he was discouraged from doing so.

I went to the leader of the session and told him, “Bruce, we have a problem with Jack. He doesn’t understand these team presentations are not life and death. He is insisting on memorizing his part of the presentation and is making himself sick over it.” Nothing we said got through to him and Jack continued to protest that he would feel better memorizing it.

The next day, I was one of the judges at the team presentations. Jack’s team was up and it was his turn to present. About 15 seconds into his talk, he forgot his lines and had to start over. Then he forgot his lines again. He just sort of collapsed and couldn’t go on.

The next presenter spoke from the heart. He didn’t need to memorize his lines because he was confident with his material. He believed in himself.

We often need to remind clients there is no “perfect” and that “perfect” is not real. We also tell them that nobody likes perfect. We don’t relate to people who seem perfect – we see them as slick and we don’t trust them.

When you’re presenting, get out of your head and remember your presentation is not about you! You need to focus on your audience and about what they need and want.

Confidence is the Foundation

Confidence is the foundation of every presentation. You need to feel confident in your material and yourself. You’re the expert, so don’t fall into the imposter syndrome, convincing yourself you’re a fraud and no one will believe you.

Before stepping into the spotlight do some exercises to relax. Put your adrenaline to work for you. That morning, hum in the shower to get your voice working. Chew some sugarless gum to get your jaw moving. Open your mouth wide and yawn. Sing along with the radio if you drive to work.

Do some vocal exercises while standing in front of a mirror. You will look so silly you’ll have to laugh at yourself. And that’s good because laughter is a tonic that will help to banish your fear.

Create a positive mantra and say it over and over again to help build your confidence. You know your material. Just don’t try to memorize it. Enjoy yourself and you will soon be rewarded by having the audience on your side.

1 comment to Why Memorizing is a Dirty Word

  • John M

    In the 6th grade, the class put on “Johnny Appleseed” for all of Lakeville. My parents were in the audience. Jimmy G. was Johnny, and I was the announcer. I was incredibly nervous. I walked onto the stage and started my lines. After about maybe 5 seconds, I broke out into incredible laughter.

    I composed myself, then continued, and then started to laugh again. How long this repetitive behavior continued, I don’t remember. I do remember being more humiliated than ever before in my life, and I also remember my parents later saying something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” I felt very relieved.

    Ever since my “performance,” I’ve been terrified of speaking in front of large groups.

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