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How to Improve Your Memory

Acrostic Strategies

An acrostic is a phrase that uses the first letter of a word as a cue to remembering it. If you were a young medical student, one of the most familiar acrostics you would use would be: On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Famous Vocal German Viewed Some Hops.

What does this mean? The first letters of each of the words in this phrase stand for the first letter of each of the cranial nerves, in order: olfactory nerve (I), optic nerve (II), oculomotor nerve (III), trochlear nerve (IV), trigeminal nerve (V), abducens nerve (VI), facial nerve (VII), vestibulocochlear nerve (VIII), glossopharyngeal nerve (IX), vagus nerve (X), spinal accessory nerve (XI), and hypoglossal nerve (XII).

And if you've ever taken a beginning music class, you probably learned an acrostic phrase similar to "Every Good Boy Does Fine," which is designed to remind you that the notes that fall on the lines of the musical staff are E, G, B, D, F.

And if you want to remember the order of the colors in a rainbow, just remember the name Roy G. Biv. Each letter in his name stands for a color: R= red; O = orange; Y = yellow; G = green; B = blue; I = indigo; V = violet.

Now that you've learned several different memorization strategies, let's try applying them to one of the most common scenarios that requires memorization: delivering a prepared speech.

How to Remember Speeches

There you are at your desk, staring down at five pages of a speech that you're supposed to give to your colleagues tomorrow evening. You're struggling to memorize every last word but you're worried that, come tomorrow, your memory will fail you. What should you do?

Contrary to what you might think, you should not try to memorize the speech word for word. A memorized speech doesn't sound like a spontaneous, off-the-cuff set of remarks -- it sounds canned and therefore can be rather boring and flat. Even Jay Leno would probably put viewers to sleep if he recited a memorized speech.

What's worse, if you do try to memorize a speech and you forget a word or phrase, odds are you'll panic, and that will only compound your memory problems.

Of course, you can sidestep this problem by reading your speech right from the paper, but that's worse than memorizing it -- it's a sure way to lose your audience. And woe to you if you lose your place -- more fumbling and panic.

Ideally, what you want to do is to appear before your audience and calmly have a conversation with them, in your own words, explaining what you want to say. Sound impossible?

Not at all. The best speakers do this every day, using the same techniques that you can master. There is a whole range of mnemonic strategies you can use to help you remember a speech without having to learn the whole thing word for word and without reading it from cue cards or index cards. What's a speech, anyway, but a series of thoughts strung together in an interesting way? If you can use your own words and follow a logical sequence, you'll be home free.

To do this, you'll have to write out the whole speech, to make sure you cover the important points. Next, you can simply choose one of the mnemonic techniques we discussed above.

  • One of the oldest ways of remembering a speech is to use the method of loci, in which you place information in imaginary locations. To remember the information, you remember the location. Here's how to remember a speech using this method:
  • Write down the main points of your speech.
  • Choose a familiar building to place the main points of your speech: Your own home is a good choice.
  • Visualize the first point of your speech at your front door.
  • Visualize the second point of your speech in your hallway.
  • Move through your home in a logical sequence, leaving one main point in each room.
  • When you stand up to give your speech, simply go to your front door: The main point will be waiting for you. Mentally work your way around the rooms, and you'll cover all the main points of your speech.

Of course, the loci system isn't the only way to remember a speech. You can use a different mnemonic strategy if you prefer. Some people prefer the linking system for remembering the key points in a speech. They select a key word to represent a whole thought, and they link each of the representative words together.

On the next page, learn how you can tweak your memory to study more effectively.

To learn more about the various aspects of memory, see: