Memorising your presentation

Introduction

To stand up and deliver a presentation can be a daunting prospect, whether for a new librarian or researcher. Fortunately, we all have access to the most advanced storage and processing unit in the known universe. No, I don’t mean a smartphone and a quick search on the Internet via Google, but your brain.

This is spectacularly good at integrating disparate facts, jumping between memories spanning decades of your life experiences and forming connections to apply to a task – such as developing and memorising a training session. You also get additional benefits: creativity and inspiration leading to relevant ideas ‘popping into your head’, often in the middle of the night – you don’t get that courtesy of Google.

When I first conducted training sessions as a librarian, assisting in an EndNote course, in combination with another librarian (before going on to deliver on my own) you were left to your own devices to improve (or not). A determination to be better and overcome nerves led me to the techniques described here.

First steps

Once you have devised a first draft of your presentation dialogue, if on paper, I would then type it up in a Word document, where it can easily be edited and printed. Continue to edit and proofread until you are happy with the content and timing (established by reading aloud to yourself). You are then in a position to develop an Outline – a single page summary of your presentation dialogue to be delivered and memorise the content, using the Peg Rhyme memory technique.

Peg Rhyme Memory Technique

Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
I became aware of this technique through a fortunate happenstance – watching a television programme in 1988, entitled After Dark, on Channel 4. This was a late night discussion programme in which a varied group discussed a topic. Appearing in this particular episode was David Berglas, who talked about memory, commenting on another guest’s inability to remember a name (also in the group) and adding that he had just written a book on memory. Being an accomplished magician, he was used to making use of numerous memory techniques and conducting seminars for executives of multinational companies, to improve memory skills.

This piqued my interest, as anything which could improve my memory – a useful skill – was worth following up. I therefore purchased a copy of the book, entitled ‘A Question Of Memory’ [1], which includes many effective, practical memory techniques, such as Peg Rhyme.

This technique can be illustrated through an actual Outline for a training session (Bloomberg Certification) I currently deliver to students, which builds on the basic structure of Peg Rhyme. It uses number order (1 to 10) for the sequence linked to something which is familiar (and fixed) – the Peg – which is in turn associated with the item to be remembered.

In order to get to this stage I would summarise the dialogue of the training session to Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords and Acronyms.

Peg Rhyme:

1 – Gun, 2 – Shoe, 3 – Tree, 4 – Door, 5 – Hive, 6 – Sticks, 7 – Heaven, 8 – Gate, 9 – Wine, 10 – Hen.

Associations to memorise the section headings of the training session I use:

1 – GUN INTRODUCTION

I visualise myself firing a starting Gun – a beginning or ‘introduction’.

2 – SHOE BENEFIT

I visualise gold coins falling into Shoes – from above – valuable – a ‘benefit’.

3 – TREE L/OBJ CERT PROCESS

I visualise myself walking into a Tree branch – a ‘L’ow ‘O’bject ‘L’ and ‘O’ remind me of ‘L’earning ‘O’bjectives.

4 – DOOR Bb PERS LOGIN

I visualise a Door with two rectangular name plates, one above the other. This reminds me of the access screen (two boxes for username and password) when starting Bloomberg, for which you can use a Bloomberg (Bb) Personal Login.

5 – HIVE BESS

I visualise a bee hive, with an image from different BESS function screens (explaining Bloomberg content) on each of the four sides of the bee hive.

6 – STICKS PREPTN. EXAMS.

I visualise myself running on stilts (Sticks) and leaping over a pommel horse in my old school gym, where sports went by the abbreviation PE (for Physical Education) which links to ‘P’ for PREPTN. and ‘E’ for EXAMS.

7 – HEAVEN CERTIFICATE

I visualise a scene from a film (A Matter of Life and Death – US title: Stairway to Heaven) in which the number of people expected in Heaven is displayed on a piece of paper, which looks like a ‘certificate’.

8 – GATE SUMMARY

I visualise a large wooden Gate, of the type giving access to a farmer’s field. Part of the gate has a diagonal bar which crosses the horizontal sections, looking similar to a plus [ + ] symbol. At school, addition (2 + 2 = 4) was known as doing ‘sums’, which reminds me of ‘summary’.

You need to get familiar with these 10 pegs and consider them visually – linking images.

Effectiveness:

An association doesn’t need to be true, accurate or possible (point six – the image of myself leaping a pommel horse on stilts being physiologically impossible). These visual associations may seem novel, being long-winded to explain, but are instantaneous and reliable in operation – they WORK.

Outline Development:

The Peg Rhyme structure forms the basis for an Outline. I use a Word document in landscape format, with the title at the top and a date when the document was last updated.

Bloomberg training outline using Peg Rhyme
An example of Peg Rhyme in practice: Bloomberg Certification training course outline

For each Section Heading I manage to summarise dialogue, which may take two to five minutes to deliver. The following make this possible:

Acronyms:

For example, GAWT – Good afternoon and welcome to …

Keywords:

FORMAT – ‘The format for today’s training session will be a presentation, with a practical demonstration in the middle to illustrate the ‘look and feel’. This will last about 25 minutes with five minutes for questions at the end. Handouts will also be distributed at the end.’

With practice, this technique can be used for a number of presentations, with the same keyword to represent similar details. So here, a single keyword has been used to represent an entire paragraph of speech.

Symbols and Special Characters:

>75% For example, ‘ > ‘ Greater Than symbol, cuts down space.

A Large Leap?

You may consider it a large leap to be able to speak for 30 (to 60) minutes by memorising the section headings, using the Peg Rhyme technique, from a single page Outline. However, the many small steps in summarising the full text of your presentation progressively (Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords, Acronyms) means you are gaining a good familiarity with the dialogue.

Additionally, associations related to each Section Heading are helpful. These can be generated by asking yourself the question: what type of information would I expect from a section with this title? For example, in the Introduction, you might expect to talk about the title of the presentation, what will be covered, the format, any practical elements, handouts and how questions would be dealt with.

Hence, this gives you a framework to aid recall of the details you would be covering.

Practice And Effective Use Of Your Time

Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Mr Gibson was the name of my O’ level chemistry teacher in 1981. One of the useful tips he passed on to the class, in terms of working to become familiar with a topic, was to do ‘a little bit of work at a time, but often’. He noted that he had used this approach to achieve 2nd place in a national chemistry examination and that it had been effective. I concur.

In putting this advice to use, I work on my presentation preparation in the library (training room, before opening time) and also at home after work, in front of the mirror.

Another extremely useful time is when travelling to/from work. Observing fellow train commuters, reveals four typical behaviours, as we enjoy the journey, jammed in like sardines:

  1. Gazing out of the window.
  2. Tapping with a single finger at the surface of a slim, rectangular artefact – think 2001: A Space Odyssey, but much smaller.
  3. Reading/reviewing printed material.
  4. Sleeping.

I always go for option one or three, not owning a smartphone. When preparing for a training session, option three. It is surprising, but you can still work effectively with your Outline printout a few centimetres from your nose, wedged in by the doors, with others in close proximity.

So, 15 minutes well-spent, twice a day, commuting. Spacing out your efforts across train, work and home gives you a spread of times throughout the day (i.e. ‘often’) to get familiar with your presentation and makes best use of your time.

Summary

The key point in improving competence is Practice, before the actual presentation to be delivered. Confidence is boosted and nerves reduced by effectively utilising the Peg Rhyme technique via an Outline to memorise your dialogue. Knowing what you have to say means you don’t fall back on improvisation: getting rid of ‘umm’s or ‘err’s will ensure clarity of expression and understanding for your audience.

Turning full circle, I sometimes get emails from students thanking me for a training session, ending their email:

Thanks Brain.

Indeed. This never fails to raise a smile with myself.

Reference:

[1] Berglas, D. and Playfair, G.L. (1988) A Question Of Memory. London: Jonathan Cape.

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