To Memorize or Not to Memorize...



In public speaking circles a battle is raging that rivals the Yankees vs the Red Sox, the Hatfields vs the McCoys, and the Patriots vs the world.

It’s between the anti-memorizers who declare that it’s never appropriate to script and memorize a speech, and the practice-makes-perfect people who advocate for writing a formal script and rehearsing it verbatim until it becomes second nature.  Polar opposite strategies, so who’s right?

The answer is, there is no right answer.  Both are perfectly appropriate approaches depending on the situation and the speaker’s communication strengths and weaknesses, and both introduce different challenges that must be addressed before the presentation goes live.

Developing and rehearsing a formal script is effective for ‘speaker-writers’ who prioritize word choice and script design.  It also works well for speakers who are comforted when everything is perfectly planned out.

Of course, writing the perfect script isn’t enough to ensure a perfect presentation.  A speaker employing this strategy must devote sufficient time and attention to practice until the performance becomes authentic.

Stated simply, memorized speeches that come off as robotic, and speakers whose personalities are overshadowed by a struggle to recall, are bad.  But those problems are signs of insufficient or misguided practice, they are not unavoidable pitfalls to planning and memorizing a critical speech.  

On the other hand, ‘speaker-conversationalists’ are often most effective and comfortable when they develop a content outline and extemporaneously fill in the detail.  This approach de-emphasizes the challenge of memorization and recall, but can suffer if the speaker is not practiced at staying on-topic and delivering concise, neatly packaged content.  

A problem is bound to occur if the speaker simply sketches out an outline and leaves the rest to chance.  

No one wants to listen to a rambling presentation without a cohesive narrative thread, but a skilled extemporaneous speaker who has carefully planned and practiced what they want to say, just not how they will say it, can overcome this obstacle.

In the end, the contentious duel between the memorizers and the ad libers may be good for click-bait headlines but it’s bad for uncovering a hard-and-fast rule for public speaking.  Both work great for different speakers and situations.  

We do, however, have a rule for you: you get out what you put in.

While some presentation strategies may be more compatible with a specific speaker’s personality and skill set, they all require dedicated practice.

If your practice could benefit from the expertise and guidance of a professional, consider working with a public speaking coach who understands that not all speakers are the same and who can devise an approach that works perfectly for you.