Do you know where the expression ‘in the first place’ comes from? It actually comes from a time when using memory palaces to recall lists, stories and more was common. Essentially ‘the first place’ is the first stop on your tour of your memory palace, which the speakers in ancient Greece would use to prompt their memories when giving talks and speeches.
The meaning of this phrase has been lost to time however, much as the use of memory palaces and other memory techniques have largely been. The reason for this is largely to do with the popularity of modern technology: these days we tend to use gadgets and devices to outsource the process of remembering things and that has led to us largely giving up on the methods we once relied upon.
This is a big shame however when you consider what a fundamental and crucial skill it is to be able to remember things. Our memory is one of our most critical cognitive tools, and there are still many situations where it cannot be simply replaced by a phone, tablet or computer. Use it or lose it my friend…
In particular, you obviously can’t use a tablet to remember things when you’re supposed to be concentrating or performing, or when you don’t have time to prepare. You can’t rely on your laptop to help you remember the password to your front door for instance, and you can’t pull out your phone while you’re giving a speech – which is a situation where it would still be very useful to have a powerful memory so that we didn’t end up fumbling our lines and trying desperately to remember what our next point was supposed to be…
For that reason, this article is going to take a look at how you can use a memory palace in order to remember the basics of your speech. Read on and learn the ancient technique that helped greats like Aristotle to captivate audiences thousands of years ago and that can help you to do the same today while flexing your grey matter.
How to Remember Your Speech
Before we begin, note that this technique is not a method that can help you to memorise a speech word-for-word. The point here is, that that’s not what you should be trying to do in the first place. Trying to memorise an entire speech is not only too ambitious, but it would also leave you distracted and muddled and result in your delivery being incredibly robotic.
Instead what we’re aiming to remember here are the topics you want to cover and the order you want to cover them in. And to that end the memory palace is the perfect tool…
Using the Memory Palace
The easiest way to use a memory palace is to use a property that you know well. Your own home is often a good place to work with of course, but likewise you can also use a place you’ve lived previously, a hotel you’ve stayed in, a friend’s home or even a workplace.
For this example let’s use your home as that’s probably the place you know the best. Now I’m going to try and help you to remember a random list of topics, facts and names. These will be: Fish, 1965, Tomas Cooper, swimming and 300. In theory this could translate into a speech that opens with a joke about a fish, moves on to set the scene in 1965 and deal with your friend Tomas Cooper, talks about a study he did to do with fishing, and then ends with the outcome being 300. Your job once you’ve seen how you could remember this speech, is to apply the same techniques to the important key beats in your own talk so that you can more easily remember the parts that you might otherwise have struggled with.
From here I want you to imagine walking up to the front door. Imagine the door in detail and take a moment to remember the texture and the colour etc. Now I want you to turn around and as you do imagine something landing with a thud on your shoulder and making a wet mess on your favourite t-shirt. You look at it, to see it’s a fish that’s flapping around and creating an awful stink. You brush it off, open the door and run inside.
Now you’re in your porch/hallway/front entrance and you see a bee’s hive surrounded by a strange mist. There’s a lot of buzzing, but you can’t quite see through the greenish mist while keeping your distance. It is a misty hive…
In a panic you run into the living room and slam the door behind you, only to see that Tom from Tom and Jerry is in there and is chasing Alice Cooper around with a giant comedy mallet.
Noting in your head that that is rather odd, you move into the kitchen to see if either of them want anything to drink. When you get in there though you find the room suddenly floods as your tap bursts forcing you to swim against the tide to stay afloat. You manage to climb up onto the countertop, and then you leap through the window into your garden.
Landing in a heap on the grass and wondering why all this is happening, you look up to see Gerard Butler in his Spartan outfit standing in front of you. And behind him, his full army of 300 is waiting for his order…
Using This Yourself
The reason that this story works so well is that it allows you to engage the visual and special parts of your memory to recall what would otherwise be dull and boring and facts. This allows them to become much more memorable, and if you try and recall this list later on today you will almost certainly find that it’s still possible to remember most of it if not all of it. The secret to making your own then, is to create a narrative as you go from room to room, and to try and make the images as bizarre, as detailed and as vivid as possible. If they’re raunchy, scary or shocking then all the better.
We’ve looked at how this can be applied to a speech, but actually it can work for many other things too whether that’s writing a shopping list, remembering the names of a group of people, or memorising a poem or story. As you practice you will become better at quickly making up these stories and memorising them and you’ll be making far better use of your brain as a result.