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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jul 28, 2023


This week we’re exploring an ancient technique to help you memorise a presentation with numerous points in a set order.



Hello and welcome to episode 194 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we share practical tips to improve your leadership. This week we’re exploring an ancient technique to help you memorise a presentation with numerous points in a set order.

Think about the best presenters you’ve seen. Were they constantly checking their notes, or reading off PowerPoint slides? Probably not. There’s nothing wrong with having notes, but it is compelling and indeed freeing to be able to present your ideas in a clear sequence without notes.

Today we’re going to explore a mnemonic or memory technique that is perfectly suited to storing away numerous points in a particular order.

Many of us would say we don’t have a great memory, but the problem is usually the initial storage of the memory rather than recall of the memory. For thousands of years people have used various techniques to store memories in a way that makes them easier to retrieve. One approach that’s particularly effective is the Memory Palace, also known as the Method of Loci (or location). I’ve used this approach to memorise presentations up to 30 minutes long comfortably without needing to use notes. I really don’t consider myself to have special memory abilities. This technique really makes it quite easy.

The first thing you need to do when using the Memory Palace technique is to think of a location with various way points that you know well. For example, I use the house I currently live in, storing points away in rooms and locations in a set path through the house. It could be a path you regularly walk that has clear landmarks and objects along the way. Ideally you will use this same path for every presentation you want to remember. The pathway and landmarks should be effortless to recall. Using my house I have a number of places where I can store a memory or point in my presentation. I start at the front door, then there’s the entrance hall, around the corner to a bathroom, a son’s bedroom, on to the kitchen, then the living room, another son’s room, then the dining room, lounge room, upstairs to yet another son’s room, another bathroom, and then a final bedroom. That’s 11 way points which is plenty. I typically find I don’t even need to use the upstairs rooms.

We then chunk up our presentation into main points. Each of these main points should be easy to talk through. You can even contain multiple points within these points if you want to get really advanced. The key then is to create a vivid and hopefully unusual visual association you can store in each location. The more bizarre, colourful and ridiculous the better.

Let’s say I’m giving a general presentation about leadership. My first chunk is a discussion about the definition of leadership I typically use and some discussion that will come out of that. I have about 5 minutes worth of content that I can use around this point. So the first point I want to remember is “what is leadership?”. The visual reminder could be the word “leadership” shaped like a large bright red inflated question mark. Perhaps I could also put some smaller question marks following the large question mark as it walks around in a circle. My second point is around the impact leadership can have. So in the second room, the bathroom, I might have a large hammer smashing the mirror on the wall - a memorable image of impact. If I have several sub-points under that main point, I could memorise a sequence of events unfolding in the room. For example, if I want to talk about the impact of leadership on people, organisations and society, I could have the hammer smash a figurine representing people, then a building representing organisations, then a globe representing society. We repeat the storage process through the remainder of the rooms. To store all of this information away I just walk through the house in my mind, recalling each of the visual cues and ensuring I can then bring to mind the points I need to make. I physically walk through the house the first few times, closing my eyes in each room to store away the visual associations. I find that makes the memories even stronger.

A few final tips - think about key objects in each room. For example, my eldest son has a record player in his room, so I use that to interact with other visual cues. We have a fire place in our lounge room, so I often have points interacting with fire in that room.

I recommend the first time you use this technique that you keep a simple paper copy of the points. If nothing else, getting your presentation down to a post-it note of points is far ahead of reading from slides or pages of notes. Also, you can use this approach for more than just presentations. Anything you need to memorise in a particular order will work, so you could memorise your calendar for the day, a list of errands, or people you need to speak with.

I hope you find this approach as helpful as I have. Give it a try and let me know how you go.


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