Imagine you’re giving an important presentation at your job. All the senior executives are there and your project’s future depends on this presentation. Your palms are sweaty, your throat is dry, you’re trying to remember what you memorized…
WAIT. PAUSE. Did you memorize?
Memorization is a mistake
Memorizing your presentation beforehand is a huge mistake. A script takes away the spontaneity from your speaking. It turns you into a performer rather than a conversationalist and instead of connecting with your audience, you come across as rehearsed and unnatural.
While it is possible to memorize your presentation and sound genuine, it’s an insane amount of work, and putting in this kind of effort every single time you’re speaking to a group of people is impractical.
Here are the main points:
The bow & arrow technique
Every great presentation has two parts:
- The message
- The evidence, stories, data that make this message resonate
Think of your presentation in terms of a bow and arrow. The arrow is your message. The bow makes it stick.
Often, we tend to stack the bow with too many unnecessary details. We spend hours memorizing arcane statistics, honing every word, memorizing facts, only to find our arrow missing the mark. Our core message gets lost in the midst of information overload. As Michael says in the episode, “everyone can speak. What’s missing is clarity.”
When you’re practicing your presentation, your first goal is to figure out what you actually want to say. What’s the one thing that matters most?
To find it, start with a message. Then, gather stories and experiences that make your message resonate. In the process, what you thought your message was changed. This inspires even stronger examples that better support your new message. The process continues until your arrow is sharp and your bow is full of great stories.
Although this can be a messy, non-linear process, it doesn’t involve a lot of effort. The majority of your time is spent brainstorming stories instead of memorizing facts. Once you get your bow & arrow, the heavy-lifting is done. All that remains in practice.
You don’t need your notes
How do you practice speaking without notes? One strategy is to vary the time intervals of your speech until you are completely satisfied with the message. For example, if you have a 7-minute speech, practice speaking for 5 minutes. Then reduce the time to 2 minutes; then go back to 4 minutes; then cut it down to 1 minute.
Practicing in this way creates pressure for your brain to navigate on the fly. Shorter time intervals force you to say what matters. Longer time intervals help you become comfortable with adding details that strengthen your point.
Each round, you give your presentation in a slightly different way. Sometimes, you forget a key story, but find a way to weave it back in later. Other times you skip a section entirely, only to realize it wasn’t all that important.
Through the process, you build a deep familiarity with your content. Words and facts are no longer crutches for your point. The message becomes your compass. The stories serve as your map. You no longer need notes to navigate.
By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like you can give the presentation in your sleep.
On game day, you’ll come across as fresh and spontaneous and it won’t feel much different than practice, which was the entire point all along.
If this strategy appeals to you, make sure to follow two key rules:
- Never break character. Treat each practice round like a real speech. Do not stop and restart the timer, even if you mess up.
- End strong on every round, no matter what.
Your brain will improve at thinking under pressure, which is the ultimate skill for speaking. That’s why the next time you’re preparing for a presentation,
- Ditch your notes,
- Create your bow & arrow,
- Practice with the exercise above.
You might not remember that the turtle trudged at 3 mph, racing the hare who sprinted at 47 mph but you will remember that slow and steady wins the race–the main point you are trying to make.