World Champions of Public Speaking all said they do it!

There’s a raging debate in the Toastmasters public speaking community about whether or not you should memorize your 5-7 minute speech. Some commenters are emphatic: “NO MEMORIZING! You’ll look and sound like a robot.” Others memorized the opening and closing of their speeches, and casually rehearsed the main points in the body of their speech.

Many Toastmasters said that in order to keep their speech sounding fresh, they only practiced it a few times. Some practiced their speech 3 times, out loud, while videotaping. Others practiced their speech to themselves – just in their head – 10 times.

This all started when a club member finished presenting her 5th speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual. The first 5 speeches are read-from-notes speeches, which is tough enough when you’re starting out. The remaining 5 speeches of the 10-speech manual are to be presented without notes.

“So how, exactly, do I give my speech without notes?” Mindy asked, in desperation and despair. “It’s tough enough doing my speech WITH notes.”

With conflicting answers from the Toastmasters I had asked, I went straight to the World Champions of Public Speaking and ask each of them directly.

I asked 8 previous World Champions of Public Speaking the following question:

“Did you memorize, word-for-word, your World Championship speech?”

The answer is YES. But that’s not where their answers ended…

Jim Key – 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking

Jim Key: Yes, BUT… It is more important to internalize the message of your speech than it is to memorize the text. That way, if anything happens to distract from that word-for-word performance, it won’t derail you. (Something distracted me, and I started off my 2003 WCPS speech differently than I’d written it.)

Me: Thanks so much for pointing out the diff between memorizing and internalizing, Jim. And starting your speech differently shows the power of internalizing.

Jim Key: Perhaps an even better example of the power of internalizing is that during the 2000 [sic] WCPS Finals, I completely forgot where I was at in my speech *during* my speech (About halfway through). I did a quick “start-from-the-beginning, fast-forward-to-that-moment” and my mind, and resume. On the video, it just looks like a really nice pause :)

Me: WOW! That’s crazy lol. And right in the middle of it all. I assume 2000’s speech was memorized word-for-word, but 2003’s had the extra internalizing working for you.

Jim Key: I wasn’t in the Finals in 2000. I’ll assume that you mean 2001, and say that what you’ve said is pretty accurate. Though there was a point where I spontaneously decided to make a tweak…to pause after asking the audience to sing the Barney song with me…to allow time for a reaction. And what it got was a pretty significant reaction.

Me: Yes, 2001; sorry. Cool that you spontaneously asked the audience to sing the Barney song. That’s ballzy – and awesome!

Jim Key: Asking them wasn’t the spontaneous part. I had planned to do that, but the idea still scared me such that I decided to ask and then rush right into singing it. Something in my head said ‘lay it out there and wait’. The response was beyond what I could’ve hoped for.

Me: Whoa, so the “lay it out there and wait” part was the spontaneous tweak. And the audience totally came through. That must have felt amazing, that the audience was “with you” on this.

Jim Key: It did. Gauging by the way they reacted to the MC’s briefing, and during the early part of my speech, I had a sense that they’d be with me. I just didn’t know it to that degree. Looking back, I think many (if not all) speeches that stand out take some type of risk or do something differently. In 2001, that was it for me.

Me: Thanks so much for your time and behind-the-scenes.

Lance Miller – 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking

Lance Miller: I knew it word for word – but I did not memorize it – there is a huge difference!

Jock Elliot – 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking

Jock Elliot: Yes. For all my [5-7 min.] competition speeches, I memorize them. In fact, I go further than that, I internalize them so that they as natural and easy as breathing.

For other [longer] presentations, while I write them out as clearly as I can to make sure I get all my points in the right order, I then reduce that to dot points, perhaps using several key phrases but otherwise, just talking naturally and conversationally about the points being made.

Randy Harvey – 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking

Randy Harvey: Of course I did. But only because I wanted to get the message across.

Ryan Avery – 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking

Ryan Avery: Yes sir!

Craig Valentine – 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking

Craig Valentine: I believe so. It was a long time ago but I believe I did. However, I never wrote it down.

Mark Brown – 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking

Mark Brown: I did.

Me: Thanks so much, Mark. Appreciate the help.

Mark Brown: It’s important that they (Toastmasters club members) understand WHY they should memorize.

Me: That’d definitely be helpful. Do you have a recommendation for what I can tell my club to help them understand why it’s important for them to memorize?

Mark Brown: Good writing creates a good speech. Memorizing ensures that good writing isn’t forgotten.

The best and most descriptive language doesn’t necessarily flow from one’s mouth spontaneously. Word, phrase & sentence selection are critical, and even if one thinks of some great ones at any given time, if they aren’t practiced and memorized, they will be forgotten.

Me: That totally makes sense. One of my club members writes great descriptive material and she wants to be able to deliver it without notes. Thanks much. I’ll share this with her and the club.

Darren LaCroix – 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking

Darren LaCroix: Internalize, don’t memorize

Me: Thanks much, Darren. I guess “internalization” is a big step past memorization?

Darren LaCroix: Yes, but also not word for word. See my recent blog post about: TED-fluence on www.darrenlacroix.com

Me: Awesome; thanks for the direction, Darren.

Internalizing

Enough of the World Champs mentioned internalizing their speech for me to take it seriously. They go the extra mile by going beyond the memorization phase: practice > memorize > internalize.

What does internalize mean? As Jim Key put it, “I internalized my speech so that even in the event of a distraction I would not be thrown off.”

Practice is like: You draw a map of directions to your new job and you follow the map until you get there. Or, you punch the address in to your phone and let Siri guide you.

Memorize is like: You drive the same route enough times that you don’t need the map or Siri anymore. You’ve memorized the names of the street signs.

Internalize is like: Forget Siri, forget the map, forget the street signs. You can drive to work blindfolded. It’s second-nature.

There’s a second theme that bubbled to the surface too: WHY memorizing is important.

Mark Brown: Good writing creates a good speech. Memorizing ensures that good writing isn’t forgotten. The best and most descriptive language doesn’t necessarily flow from one’s mouth spontaneously. Word, phrase & sentence selection are critical, and even if one thinks of some great ones at any given time, if they aren’t practiced and memorized, they will be forgotten. More resources: