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Presentations: Memorizing Your Presentation

Many people are afraid of public speaking because they might forget their lines. This post describes a simple memory trick to help you overcome that fear.

Today, we're going to revisit mnemonic devices and learn a way to use them in presentations.

Imagine that you want to include a story inside your presentation, but you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say. How would you approach such a situation?
  • Would you memorize the entire story?
  • Memorize some parts and hope you get the rest?
  • Forget the anecdote and use something else?
  • Do something else entirely?
To put it bluntly, you should never memorize and recite your presentation. This makes your presentation static and boring. Ideally, you should memorize key words, and these key words will help you remember the rest (mnemonic device). This makes your presentation dynamic and lively.

But what should you use for key words?

We’ve briefly discussed signaling language in a previous post for academic English, and such language exists in presentation English as well, but the phrases are different than academic English. What do I mean?

Would you use any of these phrases when writing a report or essay?
  • Did I ever tell you about the time when?
  • So, anyway, finally...
  • But wait a minute, it gets better!


All of these phrases tell the audience what’s coming next (i.e. signal). For example, "So, anyway, finally..." tells the audience that the conclusion is coming. It's a concluding signal phrase. These phrases can also be used to help you remember your presentation.

So, if you’re going to tell your story in a presentation and need a way to dynamically tell it, then use signaling language as your mnemonic devices for the story!

Let's look at an example. 

In the example below, I’ve bold the signaling language, and if I were to give this presentation, I would only memorize the signaling language (i.e. the bold words). I’ve written out the entire anecdote to provide an example, but if I were to present this I’m sure the non-bold parts would change a little (but that’s okay! and better!).


This reminds me of the time when I first saw the Northern Lights moving in the sky.
This was about six years ago and I was living in Alaska and just before this I’d been relaxing in an outdoor wood burning sauna with some friends.
Can you imagine? Here I was with a few friends in our bathing suits in the middle of winter in Alaska enjoying the heat of the sauna, and when I went outside to cool off in the -20 degree cold, I saw them, the Northern Lights, a green river in the sky.
But the really unique thing was I got to see the Northern Lights move like water and then burst into a thousand strands as if it just broke through a dam in the sky.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, this is one of my fondest memories of Alaska and it’s something that has come to define my approach to life…
I've used five signaling phrases to help me remember and organize my story. They are
  1. This reminds me of the time when...*
  2. This was about...years ago, and I was living in...and just before this I'd been...
  3. Can you imagine?
  4. But the really...thing was...
  5. Anyway, to cut a long story short...
*The "..." in the phrases show that these spaces can be filled with anything. 
These five signaling phrases also tell the listener particular things. For example, "This reminds me of the time when..." tells the listener that you are about to begin a story.

These categories and some possible phrases are listed below. I've left a line blank in case you can think of another one to add to the category.

Language Phrases for Presentations

Begin Story: Talking of …
This reminds me when...
Let me tell you the story of how...

Set Context: Just before this, I’d been …
This was about...years ago now.
I was living the time.

Involve Audience: You’re not going to believe this, but...
You should have seen it...
And you’ll never guess who was there.

Add Emphasis: And that’s not all!
And to top it all...
But the really...thing was...

End Story: Anyway, to cut a long story short...
It turned out in the end that...
So, in the end what happened was...

Final Remarks

This memory technique can be used for any public performance piece. Do you want to memorize your poetry for open mic? Your lines in a play? Some improv templates? Use key words to help you remember and dynamically perform!


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