How To Remember Speeches

This chapter is for public speakers. You might be a barrister, lawyer, politician, comedian, priest, lecturer, actor, or perhaps you've been asked to ■■ make a speech at a wedding or after dinner. We all have to address others in public at some time in our lives, and for many of us it can be a nerve-wracking occasion. A trained memory can help you to deliver a good speech, effordessly and without any worry.


A badly prepared speech or talk is not only embarrassing for the speaker, it can also be acutely painful for the audience as well. For those who try to speak without notes, jokes can often fall apart in public, even though they went well in private beforehand. Ideas tend to peter out rapidly when you are ad-libbing, and remembering a punchline is so much more difficult when the pressure is on to perform.

There is also nothing worse than someone reading out an anecdote verbatim from a piece of paper. Their speeches are often punctuated with pregnant pauses as they desperately try to decipher their own handwriting.


Anyone who has tried to avoid these pitfalls and attended a public speaking course will have probably been told to condense speeches into a series of key points. Listed on a cue card, they are designed to trigger off particular anecdotes, subjects or aspects of a story. They are written out in sequence, thus preserving the natural order of the speech.

This technique usually results in a big improvement, but relying on an external memory aid such as a cue card can still interrupt the flow of a speech. (I am sure you have seen someone nervously shuffling their cards.) The most successful public speakers, however, are able to store their key points in their heads.

Enter the mental speech file. Much like the mental diary, a speech file can help you to remember a talk in its entirety without any notes. Key points are translated into key images, and placed along a simple journey.

The following is a slightly edited version of one of Rowan Atkinson's infamous wedding speech sketches, taken from his Live in Belfast recording. If you haven't heard this masterful performance before, imagine him delivering it in a begrudging, acrimonious tone.

Pray silence for the Father of the Bride

Ladies and Gentleman and friends of my daughter. There comes a time in every wedding reception when the man who paid for the damn thing is allowed to speak a word or two of his own. And I should like to take this opportunity, sloshed as I may be, to say a word or two about Martin. As far as I'm concerned, my daughter could not have chosen a more delightful, charming, witty, responsible, wealthy - let's not deny it - well placed, good-looking and fertile young man than Martin as her husband. And I therefore ask the question: Why the hell did she marry Gerald instead?

...If I may use a gardening simile here: if his entire family may be likened to a compost heap and I think they can — then Gerald is the biggest weed growing out of it. I think he is the sort of man people emigrate to avoid.

I remember the first Ume I met Gerald, I said to my wife — she's the lovely woman propping up that horrendous old lush of a mother of his - either this man is suffering from severe brain damage, or the new vacuum cleaner has arrived. As for his family, they are quite simply the most intolerable herd of steaming social animals I've ever had the misfortune of turning my nose up to. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid dog. I would like to propose a toast... to the caterers. And to the pigeon who crapped on the groom's family limousine at the church. As for the rest of you around this table not directly related to me, you can sod off. I wouldn't trust any of you to sit the right way on a lavatory.

(written by Richard Curds and Rowan Atkinson)

Not many fathers are likely to stand up and deliver a tirade like this, although many would like to, but it is a very good example of what can be achieved using your memory. Timing, emphasis, and rhythm can make all the difference between a faintly amusing speech and a hilarious one. If you have a mental list of key points in your head, you can pace yourself better, knowing what's come up and what you've already said.

A speech file enables you to 'see' the enure contents laid out in front of you

(like the mental diary), letting you make a smooth transition from point to point. As you are talking, you can 'walk' down your journey. A key image for each new point will appear in front of you, and those beyond it will also be visible. There's no chance of your rhythm being disrupted, providing of course, you have chosen a familiar journey and don't lose your way!


I have divided the 'Father of the Bride' sketch into 22 points to show you how a speech can be converted into key images. You should be able to understand it all from the following.



12. Compost heap



13. Weed



14. Passport



15. Wife


Snake charmer

16. Gerald's mother



17. Vacuum cleaner



18. Herd


Gold bar

19. Rabid dog



20. Caterers



21. Pigeon



22. Loo

Notice how I have translated into key images the run of seven adjectives that describe Martin:

delightful light charming snake charmer witty comedian responsible keys wealthy gold bars well-placed well fertile ram

I have also made passport the key image for 'emigrate'. This works well for me, but you might have a more obvious association. Whenever you are forming key images, you must remember that you have got to make the link again, and in a more pressured situation. I can't stress enough that the first associations are always the most important.

Choose your own journey, and try converting the 'Father of the Bride' speech into key images. (Don't forget that facts and figures can easily be translated into memorable images using the Dominic System.) Then practise delivering it without writing anything down.

The next time you have to deliver a less vitriolic wedding speech, make sure you use a mental speech file. It looks so much more impressive than scrawny notes or smart cue cards. I suggest you choose a journey that involves a church, and be certain to memorize the route before you start filling it with key images.

A mental speech file is such a simple way of making a big impression. Whether it's a wedding, or an important business presentation, you are bound to be noticed if you calmly stand up, and deliver a polished and appropriate speech with no real notes.

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