Memory In Public Speaking

“His was a memory of tremendous grasp—facts and figures. – anecdote and epigram—classic lines and immortal verse—all came trouping forth when memory beckoned, to be marshaled for the delight of his audience, through the medium of melodious speech.”

In this age of the world, almost every one is liable to be called upon to make a public speech occasionally, or at least to give a short talk or to ” make a few remarks.” It cannot very well be side-stepped or avoided, nor should it be, for each occasion of the kind offers a rare opportunity not only to take part in civic affairs and render a service, but also to increase one’s personal influence and prestige. The ability to speak well in public is one of the surest stepping-stones to success; the most effective way to gain public recognition.


Why, then, do so many fear and dread it? Why does the average man fail in this respect? It is not within the province of this volume to discuss the many different reasons, but to point out one in particular. Fear of, forgetting is at once the bugaboo and the hoodoo of the average person in regard to Public Speaking. Hence, memory has a very important bearing on this subject. It is in truth one of the big factors applied both to the amateur and the accomplished speaker. Granting that much work must be done and in the right way, in the formulation and preparation of a speech before memory, comes into play, this factor yet remains to be disposed of, for we must look to memory to take care of all that has been prepared. How this difficulty can best be met is discussed at length in the author’s text-book, Practical Public Speaking * from which the following quotation is taken:

“When the beginner has prepared his little talk and comes to deliver it, he bumps into a new trouble. Perhaps right in the middle he may lose the thread of his argument, and flounder helplessly through the rest of it. Or that fine climax which he had worked out with such care suddenly fades away. Often he closes and sits down with the sad realization that he has left out the best things he had to say. He is then in a frame of mind to mutter, ` The saddest words of tongue or pen are—I forgot.’

Now, of course, stage fright is sometimes ac-countable for this trouble, but as a rule it is due to a weakness of memory.


A speaker should develop a good memory—in fact, one of the greatest things he will gain from his practice in speaking is a keen, retentive memory. Public Speaking absolutely compels him to develop his memory. He must have it. When he faces the crowd alone, and his memory slips, all is lost. A prompter is out of the question, a manuscript is impossible with modern audiences, and notes are inadvisable. Make your notes on the mental tablets of your brain. Notes are always a serious handicap. They hamper a speaker more than they help and always they act as a barrier between him and his audience. At best they are only crutches. Better say less and say it with direct contact. When you refer to your notes, you break your contact with your audience. Dale Carnagey says, ” Fully fifty per cent of the effect of a speech is lost by continual reference to notes.” When you read a speech, you openly admit that your address has not impressed you enough to be remembered.

When a speaker talks without notes, his spontaneity and freedom are always appreciated. Almost every newspaper account of Elihu Root’s speeches in the United States Senate mentioned specifically that ” he spoke without notes.” What a welcome surprise ! It must have been as refreshing as a summer rain after a dry spell.

Learn to make your notes on the mental tablets of your brain, where you can refer to them without distracting the attention of your audience. That such distraction is fatal is humorously brought out by Mark Twain in relating his unique method of writing his notes in ink on his finger nails. However, the picture method which was described in a preceding chapter is practical and very helpful.

After all, notes are entirely unnecessary. It is an easy matter to carry in mind a short talk. It is utterly ridiculous for a man of normal mentality to use notes for a ten- or fifteen-minute talk. The faculty of memory responds so readily to the right kind of training that any mind of ordinary caliber can soon develop the memory so that it can be depended upon to meet all the necessary requirements of Practical Speaking.


In considering these requirements, we find that we must make two classifications: Logical memory and Rote memory.

By Rote memory, we mean the ability to memorize anything word for word, line for line, or figure for figure exactly and in order. It demands perfect accuracy and no departure from the original text is permissible.

By Logical memory, we mean the ability to memorize, not words or figures, but ideas and the logical sequence of those ideas. Logical memory is by far the greater attainment; it is the advanced step, the ultimate goal to be sought in practical speaking. Some writers on Public Speaking belittle the importance of Rote memory. This is a mistake, because Rote memory is the A: B. C. of memory training; it develops accuracy and lays the foundation for a good logical memory. The advice ” Do not memorize ” given by some authors is misleading for the faculty of memory must be used even in extemporaneous speaking. As a matter of fact, I know of no one who has developed a great Logical memory who has not first developed the Rote memory to at least a fair degree of accuracy. Without it, we have inaccuracy of statement, loose translations and hit-or-miss, disorderly arrangement. In public address the beauty of the quotation or the bigness of the idea may be ruined or utterly destroyed by the flaw of in-accuracy. The speaker, therefore, must develop his Rote memory and his logical memory, for he needs both. Furthermore, he must base his memory work on the three great laws of memory and diligently apply them, if he wishes to gain a mental mastery of his message.






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