Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Substitute for Memorization

Last night at one of my Toastmasters clubs, I delivered a humorous speech that I first gave five years ago. It's called "Orchestra in My Pocket," and it's about playing the harmonica. I'm surprised by its popularity in my local TM District 38. I won my first District championship, and I've been asked periodically to deliver at special occasions (sort of like the guest star; I pick up a free dinner every now and again.) It's sort of being Ron Howard; he won a couple of Academy Awards, but people only remember that he played Opie on Andy Griffith.
Anyway, the feedback was great last night, everyone laughed, we all had a good time, folks were surprised that I actually PLAYED the harmonica, etc.
At the end of the evening, a fellow member shook my hand and said, "Now you didn't memorize that speech, did you?"
I was surprised, because that is my mantra to my fellow TMs: "Always memorize your speeches." I asked why he thought otherwise. "Well, that's the loosest I've every seen you." The implication was that I so relaxed that had to be winging it.
Interesting observation on his part. So it only proves my point. You will never look relaxed if you are struggling to remember what you need to say next. You must memorize. And you must also structure the speech so that one point leads into another, without any sudden twists or turns. for example, I play certain melodies on the harmonica at specific points in the speech to cue the next section.
When I gave the speech last night, it was my first time in about four years. But I rehearsed in my usual way:
  1. I did several readings into a cassette recorder until I had about 30 minutes worth of recordings.
  2. I practiced by playing the tape over and over while reading the script. This formed a mental bridge in my mind between the aural and the visual. As I progressed through the actual performance of the speech, I could see the words in front of me, what I call a "virtual cue card."
  3. I also rehearsed during my driving time by playing the cassette in the car. (When I bought that car four years ago, I had to make sure it came with a cassette player. they are becoming scarce.
Apparently I looked relaxed when I gave it, so it must have worked. So I'm glad that folks enjoyed my speech, but I am also glad for the validation of my methodology.

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