It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I was walking briskly in my neighborhood. My hands were moving, my facial expression was changing, and my mouth was talking. Suddenly, a lady rushed out of her house and approached me: “Honey, is anything bothering you? Can I pray for you?” I was amused by her question and replied with a smile: “Oh no, I’m just practicing my presentation”.

Indeed, practicing your speech while exercising or doing other activities is a simple and proven method to speak like a pro without memorizing your presentation word for word.

I was working as a marketing professional for a fortune 500 company in the telecom industry  more than ten years ago. With a nick name of “PowerPoint Queen”, I was good at creating PowerPoint presentations. However, I was terrified at presenting in front of customers and top management. In order to avoid making any mistakes, I tried very hard to memorize my presentation word for word. Instead, I ended up speaking like a robot. My manager understood my struggles and sent me to a three-day business presentation workshop. One of the skills I learned was a life saver. The coach told us: never try to memorize your speech. Trust your memory. As long you practice enough, the information will come to you. He suggested that we practiced our speeches while doing other stuff such as cooking, washing dishes, and taking shower. I did practice my speech while walking in my neighborhood. You heard what happened when I looked like a crazy lady and my kind neighbor was concerned about my wellbeing.

Here is how you can speak like a pro without memorizing your content word for word:

Write your presentation with simple, vivid, and relevant short words and sentences. For a short speech such as a ten-minute keynote, it is best to write out your scripts word for word. Make sure your total word count is within the allowed speaking time. The rule of thumb is about 100 words per minute. For a longer speech such as a one-hour roadmap presentation, you can write your content in the format of bullet points. Your scripts do not have to be perfect before you start to practice it.

Practice your speech while you are doing other activities such as exercising, washing dishes, and taking a shower. The key is to talk out your presentation in a “disturbing” environment.  With plenty practice, the content of your speech will come to you automatically. Then you can watch your facial expression in front of a mirror, listen to your vocal variety on your iPhone,  and video record your practices. Go back to your original scripts to update and polish the content when you are satisfied with your performance. This is a work-in-process in order to make your presentation from good to great.

Make sure you have a good night’s sleep before your important presentations. It’s ok to feel nervous. As Mark Twain once said:”There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” You have practiced very well and you know what you are talking about. Leave your scripts and notes at home. You don’t need them. As you start to speak, the information will come to you automatically, as if they are lyrics come out of the mouth of a singer. You can speak like a pro by trusting your memory and rock the stage with your confidence as a speaker, expert, and leader.

Ever since the workshop more than ten years ago, I have never tried to memorize my speeches word for word. Through years of practicing and learning by trial and error, I’ve built my confidence as a public speaker and become fearless conducting presentations in front of audiences. Today, I make it a habit to practice my speeches while walking my dog. Now it’s your turn to find what activities work best for you so that you can speak like a pro without memorizing your content word for word. Trust your memory!