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Did School Teach You How To Speak?




Go back to school do you remember all those examinations you had to sit? I imagine they were taken in absolute silence, no speaking allowed? Which just goes to show how little attention school gives to the art of the spoken word, perverse given much of our personal credibility in later life rests on how we speak.

This means when we are expected to pitch or present later in life, interview, give a speech, we usually start by taking a pen and writing down what we’re going to say. Whilst writing out a script in full and listing everything you intend on saying is a good idea it is only a good exercise so you can get a feeling for the flow, logic and transitions of the your pitch, I would not recommend memorising it.

Write it, throw it…

Once you have practiced the script a few times I would throw it away and only memorise a few key points for what you’re going to say. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • We do not speak as we write. When we speak we are far more relaxed and forgiving with our language. Listen to any Prime minster or President speaking in an interview and you will hear lots of errors in the English used but they are forgiven because they are No one expects you to be perfect when you speak, whereas they do when you are writing.
  • Speaking from a script does not allow you to change or alter your pace and emphasis accordingly to feedback from an audience, something that is crucial if you are to engage with your audience.
  • Unless you are a trained actor it is nearly impossible to add emotion to a speech you have learnt by memory, you are so engaged with your delivery, the sequence and getting every word right any feeling is lost.

“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” Winston Churchill

Instead of learning your speech by heart learn how to use some simple memory techniques to create sign-posts for your brain to refer to. I asked the 2015 winner of the MSO Memory World Cup Jake O’Gorman what was the best method for speeches and he recommended the Method of Loci or Memory Palace technique.

When I memorise my speech I have up to five visualisations, each representing a point I wish to make. I then link each visualisation into the sequence of the speech by making one visualisation link to another. For example, say I wanted to talk about football, corruption and cleaning up the sport I would generate three visualisations, such as:

  • David Beckham
  • A businessman in suit with briefcase full of money
  • Household cleaning fluid

#attractive footballer

I would then add as much detail as I can within my time constraints:

  • David Beckham in his white Real Madrid playing strip, hair tied back, foot on a white and gold football, on a sunny day in the middle of a football pitch
  • Man in suit with briefcase full of money, rotund, wearing a dark suit and a white shirt which is loosely tucked into his trouser waistband, smoking a cigar, drinking champagne, balding, stood in a grand marble hall
  • Household cleaning fluid, with a hand around a triangular clear bottle wearing a yellow marigold, the fluid is spraying out of the nozzle and the fluid is coloured light blue

I link these three visualisations together by imagining David Beckham kicking a football into the marble hall and hitting the corrupt businessman on the face, champagne spilling and money flying out of the briefcase, then a huge hand and cleaning fluid appear fly down from the sky, one spray and the businessman evaporates and all that is left is money on the floor and the football.

Time and again I see super bright high achievers discovering, often too late, the written word is not of any real help in a pitch, often leading to a bruising experience. But as soon as you recognise our education system is not geared up for the spoken word it should come as no surprise, it’s not a ‘you’ problem, it’s a ‘system’ problem, one that can be fixed.