I never memorized a speech until I joined Toastmasters. Five speech contests later, I have learned how. It does not always make sense to memorize a speech or a presentation, but if you really need every word to count, then it is worth the time and effort. This method is not fast, but it is effective.

Here is what works for me:

  1. 41Write the speech out by hand
    (personally I like to lay on the carpet and write in an old notebook)
  2. Type the speech and show it to your peers/mentor for editing and feedback
  3. Rewrite the speech by hand
    (the act of writing by hand takes longer but helps you memorize it)
  4. Read the speech aloud and record yourself with an audio recorder
    (I just use the Voice Recorder app on my phone) – This is when you can get the first time estimate of your speech and see if you need to revise it further for time constraints.
  5. Read the speech aloud and/or listen to the recording enough times that you have a sense of the speech.
  6. Create an outline by rewriting only the first few words of each sentence, each on it’s own line of paper. You may also want to include key phrases or punch lines that you do not want to miss.
  7. Read the “outline” and try to fill in the missing parts of each sentence. In trying to remember the exact wording you may rephrase some sentences. This is good because it means you are restating it in a way that feels more natural to you when it is said outloud.
  8. Once you can recite the whole speech only using the outline as your guide, rerecord the speech on an audio recorder.
  9. Listen to the recording several times.
  10. Practice saying the speech without the outline while walking, driving, biking, or doing chores.
  11. Once you can say it through without big pauses or missteps you are ready to do a “speedthrough”. A speedthrough is when you recite the speech as quickly as possible without any of the dramatic pauses or vocal variety.
  12. Do several speedthroughs until you can say it without missing important pieces.
  13. Finally, go back to practicing the speech with full expression, gestures, props (if applicable).
  14. At this point the speech will be memorized but you will further bake it into your memory as you polish it for staging, gestures, and vocal variety.

This process usually requires at least two weeks of deliberate practice. Take more time if you can. It is good to space out the steps and allow yourself time to forget the speech and then re-remember it.

This method is best for a speech contest, TED talk, or other important live event in which every word you say will be scrutinized and you have a strong incentive to give it your very best effort.