The Secret Memory Booster in Public Speaking

Focus gesture

Would you like to know one technique that can help you better:

  1. learn your presentation?
  2. remember your presentation?
  3. facilitate your audience’s learning and recall of your material?


The powerful technique is to use body movement and gestures.

Perhaps you may recall learning gestures to a song as a child, or helping children learn something by associating movement and gestures with words.  This technique isn’t just for children!

Gestures help you access memory and language and help your audience understand and remember your message.

Numerous studies have shown a positive effect in using gestures to encode memories (get them into your memory), to retrieve memories (to recall them) and to decode information for the listener (i.e. help your audience understand the information). Spontaneous, unplanned gestures can enhance your language production, but specific, defining gestures can enhance memory.

At a presentation on public speaking skills that I gave last week, my speech had 3 supporting points, each with a specific, defining gesture:

  1. Focus on your audience (I looked through a circular “thumb and finger” gesture–as shown in the picture above)
  1. Internalize, don’t memorize your material (This was a three-part gesture.  For the word “internalize,” I held my hand over my heart and for the word, “don’t,” I used that same hand, along with my other hand to make brief, horizontal cutting gestures and then for “memorize,” I tapped my temple while shaking my head).
  1. Tell a story (for this phrase, I held my hands like an open book).

Then, in the conclusion, I used each gesture again as I touched on the 3 points.

The biggest value in using these gestures was that they really cemented the 3 points in MY memory. They were the mental hooks on which I hung my speech.

A note of caution: the gesture, even if planned, must flow naturally as you speak.  Practice and video yourself.

Try using a specific, defining gesture for each of your points in your next speech to make your message memorable to your audience and yourself!

A Winning Speech Structure: 1-3-1

1-3-1 speech structure

“Life’s . . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  These are the despairing words uttered by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, after hearing of Lady Macbeth’s death.

I’ve often thought they could apply to some speeches I’ve heard.

Sitting in the audience, I’ve despaired over the loss of my time, wondering, “What’s the point?”  And, some of those speeches have been well-delivered, “full of sound and fury.”

Have you ever listened to a speech and wondered, “What’s the point?”

The speech wasn’t clear or compelling and the conclusion fizzled?

The problem was most likely a poor speech structure. If your audience can’t figure out what’s important, where the final destination is, and how you are going to get them there, you’ve taken them on a fool’s journey.

“What you say” (content and structure) is, just as important, and usually more important than “how you say it.” (delivery).

An impressive delivery style won’t make up for poor speech structure.

A recent article in the Toastmaster magazine by Brent Kerrigan, introduced a simple, yet effective formula for speech structure: 1-3-1:

  • 1 idea
  • 3 themes or points of support
  • 1 conclusion or call to action

The image at the top is my simple visual to remember it using your hand as a memory aid.

Imagine that you are a Toastmaster and you want to write a speech that explains why people should join Toastmasters (a world wide organization dedicated to empowering individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders).

1 idea People should join Toastmasters to become more effective communicators and leaders.  This idea would be communicated in the introduction, most often after an opening story.

3 themes: (the themes or points can be tailored to the audience). Here are 3 points you could make:

  1. Communication skills are the number one determining factor in promotions 
  2. Communication and leadership skills are best developed through regular practice
  3. The club environment of Toastmasters is effective in developing both communication and leadership skills

Each point would be supported through facts, logic, examples and stories (personal stories are highly effective)

1 conclusion or call to action:  Join a Toastmasters club. Depending on the occasion, the call to action could be slightly different.  For example,when I do a demonstration meeting, my call-to-action is to get commitments to attend and participate in the next meeting.

For an expansion of the concept, see my Killer Keynote Structure:

Killer Keynote Structure

7 Tips on Using Speech Notes Effectively

Example of Back up notesOne of the biggest fears that people have about public speaking is the fear of forgetting what they are going to say.  Using notes can reduce that fear greatly, but at the same time create a barrier to audience engagement.

Here are 7 tips on using speech notes more effectively so that you can engage and be present with your audience:

  1. Talk to people, not to paper.  Talking while you are looking at your notes is the kiss of death for audience engagement.  Instead, pause, look down to snatch up a phrase or concept, look up, and then speak.  If you must, keep track by placing a finger on your text.
  1. Speak from an outline or from key word notes.  In addition to making it easier to look down and snatch up a few words, key word notes allow you to improvise your wording to what is most natural and conversational.  Speaking from a verbatim script (or trying to memorize one), can make you sound stilted. You can make successive versions of notes as you practice, reducing the words each time.  Outline and keyword notes also make it easier to quickly review your content and to practice in the car.
  1. Make sure you can read your notes.  Legibility and size of lettering is important.  I check that I can glance at my notes on a table next to me and still read them easily.  Typed notes, in a 14-point font or larger will work for most people.  In presentation software, you can add presentation notes, which you can view while delivering the slideshow (PowerPoint, Keynote), however, I don’t like to be limited to staying where I can read the notes on my laptop.
  1. Use pictures, symbols, and colors.  A picture is worth 1000 words!  Use colors to highlight your main points or audience activities.
  1. Slide, don’t flip. Have your notes on only one side of a paper, so that you don’t have to flip the paper over.  Flipping the notes is very distracting (as is playing with your notes). Use note cards, in a light, neutral shade, if no lectern (or nearby table) is available. Number your cards so you can put them back in order if you drop them. If using a lectern, use sheets of paper (I usually put my notes in a sheet protector, as that enables me to easily reuse them, and makes it easier to slide).  I typically only have one page of notes–often tied to my PowerPoint slides.
  1. Have notes as a backup. Don’t count on your PowerPoint as a prompt.  If there is a technical failure and your PowerPoint doesn’t work, you can glance at your notes to prompt your memory. The image at the top is my sheet “back up notes” for a one-hour leadership presentation.  I’ve actually never used them while presenting, but have them available if my PowerPoint slides don’t work.  I’ve also used them to practice my presentation while driving.
  1. Practice with your notes (and don’t look at your notes at all for your opening and closing).  I made the mistake once of not practicing with my notes and then when it was time to present, I felt a little panicked because I couldn’t easily find where I had left off.

Notes should remind you of what to say, but not tell you exactly how to say it (because you did practice, right?)

Do you have tips for using notes?

What Do Your Shoes Say?

Maybe I have a shoe fetish.  No.  I only own about 15 or so pairs of shoes.  But, am I the only one who notices  a presenter’s shoes?  I don’t just notice them; I am distracted by them.

Lately, I’ve been distracted by some poor shoe choices on the platform–mostly by aspiring professional speakers.

Why? I take in the whole speaker–what they say, how they say it, and what they wear. If a speaker is on an elevated platform, shoes are even more noticeable! Your shoes speak volumes as to your self-esteem, your social status,  your professionalism, and your attunement to the audience, your topic, and the event.

I think there is a fairly wide latitude about what is appropriate footwear for a professional speaker.  If you speak on outdoor adventure, and dress in outdoor wear when you speak, then hiking boots might be appropriate.  If you are a bit of a maverick and red Converse high-tops are part of your signature look, then more power to you!

But most speakers will want to wear professional shoes, shined, in-good repair and at least somewhat in-fashion. Take a look at what other professional speakers are wearing in the industry you speak in. For women–some shoes are OK with slacks, but look really dowdy if you wear them with a dress. And, NEVER wear brand-new shoes when you speak.  Wear shoes that you are comfortable in and have worn successfully before.  I admit this last bit of advice is tricky for women if you want to wear fashionable high-heeled shoes (I have a couple of 4-inch heels that I will wear if I don’t have to be standing for hours, or walking long distances).

I’m pretty boring when it comes to shoe colors–all my professional shoes are black.  One advantage of  black shoes is my secret fix-it tool that I keep in my purse–a black Sharpie marker, perfect for covering up a minor scuff.

Here are a few “What-Not-To-Do” Shoes:

Over-the-Top Fashion Statement with Killer High-Heel:

wacky shoe

Too-Much-Toe (they might be great with a cocktail dress, but not for most speaking engagements):

too much toe

Too casual (yes, I’ve even recently seen a guy wear athletic shoes. Ugh!):

too casual

Too cutesy (these are neither sexy, nor high-fashion.  They scream “don’t take me seriously!”):

too cutesy

And, some guy shoes (same concepts for women’s shoes) . . .

Too-worn (fix them, or get rid of them):too worn

Dirty (step into a restroom to shine.  Or, wear shoe covers in bad weather–or switch shoes at the engagement):


Make a good first impression–from head to toe!