One of the biggest fears that people have about public speaking is forgetting what they had planned to say. It’s easy for our minds to go blank when under stress.

Thankfully, a wide range of techniques are available for memorising a speech, which will help you to say what you want to say, but also boost your confidence and calm your nerves. Today we’re going to focus on five top tips for memorising a speech:

  1. Get the structure right
  2. Make notes
  3. Use visual aids
  4. Explore mental and physical techniques
  5. Practise, practise, practise

Some of these tips for memorising a speech will be more familiar than others, and a flexible approach is required to discover the methods which work best for you. With this in mind, let’s get started.

1) Get the structure right

First things first, getting the structure of your speech right is essential. This might not seem like a memorisation technique, but none of the methods we’ll discuss below will be effective if you don’t have a solid foundation to work with.

A speech with a logical, simple structure is easier to remember for several reasons:

  1. It helps you to see the bigger picture. A presentation in clear sections allows you to step back and get a sense of the whole much more easily, and so it is easier to work out where you are if you get lost – even if you can’t remember the exact words you planned to use, you will be in a position to work out ideas that come next.
  2. There is a sense of logical flow. If one point leads to another in your speech in a convincing, natural way, then it will be much easier to remember than if you keep veering from topic to topic.
  3. You can memorise it in sections. It is much less daunting to memorise and rehearse sections of a speech separately, as opposed to feeling like you need to remember an everything in one go.

An effective speech should have a clear introduction, middle and conclusion. Think about it like a journey with a starting point and a destination – you need to know where you are setting off from and where you are going in order to memorise a route. Likewise, strong structural pillars are vital in the memorisation process. This Forbes article on the keys to writing a speech offers some great tips for structuring your presentation.

2) Make notes

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when memorising speeches is thinking that they need to memorise it word for word. Not only is this extremely difficult, but it’s also very stressful. In addition, there’s always a chance that you will remember the words in a mechanical way, making it harder to deliver a speech which feels natural and engaging.

This is where having good notes come in. Notes for a speech should show your structural sections and main points, allowing you to view the whole of your speech in a compact form. (It’s clear why having a good structure is vital for this!) Ideally, over time you can reduce the amount of information you need in your notes as you will have internalised the content, leaving you with just a few prompts. The very fact of knowing that you have prompts if you need them will lower anxiety levels, making it less likely that you will forget what you wanted to say.

In the speech itself, many people find it helpful to use note cards, also known as cue cards. WikiHow has a helpful article on preparing these. Again, keep them as simple as possible, but do include any details that you need to get right, such as statistics or quotations. Colour-coding or pictures may also be helpful as a way of simplifying the information. Making notes as you prepare your speech not only helps you to memorise the information, but also gives you something practical to work with during the speech itself. Number the cards so you have a clear sense of where you are when you are giving your speech, and can sort yourself out if you should drop them.

3) Use visual aids

We’ve seen how cue cards can act like a safety net during a speech, and the same is true of visual aids. It is often a good idea to use visual aids in a presentation for the audience’s sake, but they are also a great way to ensure that you don’t have any memory slips.

For example, you could accompany your speech with a PowerPoint slideshow. The slides will act as prompts, reminding you which part of the speech comes next. This might come in the form of written headings which literally state the content, or in more abstract forms, such as a picture or a quotation. Of course, you can also put specific statistics or quotations onto slides too just as you would with cue cards. The different kinds of visual aids available to you and how to use them effectively is covered in EtonX’s Public Speaking Course. Don’t put too many words on your slides, nobody wants to have to hear you saying things they can read for themselves, but do include key facts which an audience may want to note down or which you feel must be exactly correct.

However, a word of caution. When using PowerPoint slides to help you to memorise your speech, make sure that you maintain eye contact with the audience rather than looking at the screen, especially if that screen is behind you. If you can arrange for a second screen on a lectern or at floor level at the front of the stage you are speaking from, that is ideal, otherwise make sure you have enough information in your notes so you only have to glance behind you to make sure the correct slide is displayed, rather than having to read from the slide yourself

4) Explore mental and physical techniques

As well as the more traditional memory aids, such as presentation slides and cue cards, there are also some more unconventional methods to help you remember a speech. For example

  • Visualisation. This involves associating your speech with images to help you remember it. This could mean imagining your speech as a house, with each room of the house containing a different part of the presentation. The process of doing the speech involves going from room to room. HubSpot explores visualisation in more depth in this blog post.
  • Using your fingers. Alternatively, if visualisation is not for you, you could try physical techniques. For example, you could use your hands, associating each of your points with one of your fingers and then practising remembering which point goes with which finger.

Methods like these don’t work for everyone. Visualisation techniques, for example, won’t be useful if your brain just doesn’t work that way. Try different methods out and see which ones are right for you.

5) Practise, practise, practise

This almost goes without saying, but as with any skill, memorising a speech requires a lot of hard work and practise. Sometimes this might feel repetitive and frustrating, but all the work will be worth it when you are able to deliver a confident speech which you know like the back of your hand. Practise your speech in front of friends and colleagues, film or record yourself, and analyse the results thoughtfully. The more you do this, the better you will know your speech, and the more confident you will become. Never underestimate the simple value of thoughtful repetition. If your speech has a logical structure it is often helpful to rehearse the beginning and the end – if you start and end confidently the middle may take care of itself. Rehearsing your speech is a good way to get the timing of your speech right, which is crucial if you have to fit into a limited time – know how long your conclusion takes and move onto it in good time – it is better to cut things out of the middle than to have to rush what might be the most important part of what you have to say. When practising makes a deliberate effort not to rush through familiar parts of the speech, but to speak at the pace which is appropriate to the size of the room you will be giving your speech in, and the need for your audience to have time to think about what you have to say.

Of course, practise is most effective when you have help and feedback from others. EtonX’s Public Speaking Course gives you the chance to explore how to deliver a great speech by learning, practising and refining your skills in an interactive online environment with top tutors and enthusiastic peers. Why not check it out today?