How To Use Mental Imagery

In memorizing your talk, always employ your strongest form of mental imagery. In his work on the Psychology of Public Speaking, Professor Scott gives a very lucid exposition of this point. He applies it to memorizing a poem, but it may just as well be applied to a speech.

“If my visual imagery is strong, I should try to form a distinct visual image of everything which is described in the poem. In many in-stances I could with advantage even imagine in visual forms things which would not naturally be thought of in such form. Perhaps my special imagery is strong for printed words and for their position on the page. In such instances effort might be made to form a distinct picture of the pages on which the poem appeared and then all later recitals might be very much like an actual reading of the poem from these clearly-imaged pages. The image of the pages would probably fade away as soon as the poem was well learned, but there is nothing lost by the process if my mind is capable of forming images of a page with ease.

“If my prevailing form of imagery is not visual, but is auditory, then I should use an entirely different method of committing. In this case I should, if possible, have the poem read to me, or I should read it aloud and it should be committed as a series of sounds, just as if it had not visual form at all. It might be an unendurable burden for me to commit the poem from seeing the printed page while it might be committed with comparative ease if studied aloud, While in school it is frequently inconvenient to study aloud and hence we form the habit of committing the wrong way and never correct the method at a later time when it would inconvenience no one if we should study aloud every-thing which we are to commit.

” If my prevailing form of imagery is neither visual nor auditory, but is of movements, then I must adapt my method to my special faculty. It might be possible that the writing of what is to be committed would be a most helpful plan. Or it is probable that the muscular effort connected with the pronunciation of the words is the most effective factor in assisting me to commit. In such a case I should read aloud that which is to be committed and the reading of it myself would be more beneficial than having it read to me. The movements of writing and speaking should be supplemented by actions of gesture as they come natural in the ordinary delivery. All movement connected with that which is being described should be felt as completely as possible and all movements involved in learning and delivering should be given full sway.”


To the amateur speaker, I would especially commend the practice of rehearsing your speech aloud for some time prior to delivery. This not only helps to fix it. firmly in the memory but it familiarizes you with the tonal compos.ition of your talk. Frequently, when a speaker does not do this in his preparation, he becomes confused or is ill at ease when he begins to deliver his speech to an audience because it sounds strange and new to him. He has never heard it before. Sometimes he is afraid of the sound of his own voice. Rehearse aloud, by all means. And as. you rehearse, visualize your audience to be. Nothing will so surely help to fix your speech in mind so your memory will not slip when you face an audience as these rehearsals aloud.

But,” asks the fearful student, “what would I do, what could I do if I should forget? ” The first thing, in such an emergency, is to take a full deep breath—then swing into action—Go—Do something-anything—to break the spell. Again quoting Walter Dill Scott, who offers a worth-while suggestion:

” Many forms of bodily movements assist the mind in committing and recalling in a most remarkable manner. If a speaker forgets his part, it is fatal to stand still and do nothing. Such bodily inactivity has its effect upon the mind and makes the recall of the part doubly difficult. The writer never will forget the test of this principle which he experienced some years ago. It fell to his lot to preside over a large audience and to introduce formally a speaker of great fame. Just as he reached the sentence in which he was to announce the name of the bishop, the speaker suddenly discovered that he had forgotten the name of the distinguished guest. If he had stopped and tried to recall it, the confusion would have overcome all attempts to recall. Instead of allowing this to happen, the speaker continued uttering sentences, more or less appropriate, until the name was recalled and the speech- completed, much to the relief of the speaker, and apparently to the entire satisfaction of the audience. Tile physical effort of enunciation and the attendant necessary mental activity were the factors needed to stimulate the mind and to secure the recall. Every speaker who does not use a manuscript is forced to make it a rule to do something as soon as a part is forgotten. This something may be the pronunciation for the second time of the last sentence remembered, or the extempore insertion of an irrelevant sentence; it may be the pouring of a glass of water, or the walking to the front of the platform. It is not essential what it is, but the mental machinery is best stimulated by activity, and when the mind become a blank and the part is forgotten, activity must be initiated by a process which is fully under the control of the will. This principle is especially important to motor-minded persons, but is valuable to all.

” That which is grasped in terms of my prevailing form of imagery makes the greatest impression on me, has the most meaning, is most easily committed and most readily recalled. Every person should discover the form of his mental imagery and take advantage of the discovery in employing the strongest side of his mind in acquiring knowledge, and especially in committing verbatim.”

Another suggestion which will greatly aid the public speaker is that he should continually exercise his memory on words, thereby building up a large expressive vocabulary. In connection with this, paraphrasing is an excellent practice.

” Paraphrasing is one of the best means of strengthening the memory and building up the mental faculties because of the necessity of thoroughly understanding a subject before it can be reclothed in one’s own language and this entails on the paraphraser a lot of digging for the thought, a concentration of the thinking powers, and a close attention to the matter to be paraphrased in order that all the essential points may be seen and reproduced. After the subject has been keenly analyzed, all the points or facts should be systematically arranged, all contrasts, appositions and series noted, and a complete framework constructed, and then it will be found that such a clear understanding will be possessed of the matter that is to be paraphrased that the words to convey the thoughts will flow freely.”


The public speaker’s interest in memory is fourfold. He wants to know how to improve and strengthen his memory—he needs to fill the treasure-house of his mind with rich material—he should acquire the most economical way of committing and recalling and he must develop a memory that is absolutely trustworthy on the platform—one that will not fail him whenever and wherever he rises to his feet to address an audience. Day by day, and month by month, as you use the laws and working principles set forth in these chapters you will build up a wonderful memory, and at the same time add to the riches of your mind.

Moreover, you will gradually acquire a great storehouse of valuable speech material. which you can draw upon at will when needed from time to time. No speaker is well equipped with-out such a storehouse, and a dependable memory to rely upon as he faces his audience.






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