Monday, March 23, 2015

Building a Memory Palace

In working with business presenters, one of the big hurdles many need to overcome is their dependency upon notes. Whether fully typewritten sheets or even cue cards, a speaker's reliance on referencing their notes creates a distance between themselves and their audience that often proves difficult to breach. In an effort to rid themselves of the dreaded paper crutch, many will work to memorize their speech word for word, line by line, which leaves them typically sounding robotic and fully at a loss if they lose their mental place.

Instead, there is value in learning new methods for remembering 'what comes next' in your speech and the Memory Palace is one such method.  In fact it is one of the most widely used mnemonics (memory aids) out there.  The Memory Palace is, quite simply, a way of structuring your thoughts in your mind that you need to remember.

Let's take a look at the how-to's of constructing a Palace of your own...

Create a Blueprint

Although your Palace is technically a place in your mind, you may find it easiest to begin building yours based on a room or building you are already familiar and comfortable with.  You may start with a basic palace that is only one room, to start, making it as detailed as possible.  The more detailed the room (building) the more 'stuff' you can stuff into it!

Plan your Route

Typically we need to remember things in a certain order, such as when we are giving a speech.  If so, then we need to ensure that we follow a predefined route through our palace so that we pass our memory triggers in order.  If your palace is just one room then your route may be as simple as entering, turning left and walking around the room in a circle.  

Identify your Storage Spots

Every item within your castle serves as a storage receptacle of information.  As you walk through your palace you will anchor different ideas and concepts, different parts of your speech, various facts with different objects along your route.  This is why you want to spend time upfront making your palace as detailed as you can.  Each item in your palace effectively becomes a storage bin of information.  

Memorize your Palace

In order for your Palace to be truly effective, you need to ensure that you can recall it perfectly. To help your mind become clear about the contents it is helpful to draw out your palace blueprint, highlighting the storage locations you have chosen.  You can then test your recall by visualizing your palace and checking your mental recall against the map to determine if you have remembered everything and in the order you want.  Again, the more detailed you make each storage item (colour, size, feel, smell...) the easier you will find you will be able to recall it.  

Now Start Storing

Once you feel comfortable with your Palace and the storage spots you have placed in it you are ready to begin storing information into it.  Here you want to place a manageable amount of information into each item without overloading it.  If you have some items that need to be kept separate from others then ensure that you put them into separate places.  If you are delivering a speech and reach a point where you have three key points to make you may want to highlight that by placing each point into a different, but similar item, such as one of three paintings on the wall, one of three candlesticks, etc. 
Know that you don't have to continually keep adding to your palace, your rooms and objects can be 're-used' once you no longer need to recall the previously stored information.  

Get Creative

A speaker friend of mine has a number of key speeches that he delivers numerous times.  He has found it useful to create a Picture Gallery within his palace.  In essence, each painting in his gallery represents a different speech he delivers.  He paints a visual painting for each speech which contains all of the preset triggers he needs to remember each speech.  To help him with this he uses other mnemonic devices to help him, including the use of symbols and images, that evoke larger concepts. Many of these images will prove unique to you and are often based on your past experiences.  He has become so proficient at anchoring his speeches that he can stroll up to any painting and, by simply mentally looking at the painting, he can deliver a full hour without any refresher!

Explore your Palace

When you have created your palace you need to visit it periodically, even when it is not formally in use.  The more you explore your palace the more comfortable you will become with its structure and contents, thus making it easier to recall them.  My speaker friend above takes regular walks through his Picture Gallery which serves to refresh his memory of his various speeches and talks.  He ensures he is familiar with the landscape of each of the paintings he has created and is therefore ready to deliver any of them at a moment's notice.

Take a Virtual Tour

Okay, I know this is somewhat crazy sounding, asking you to take a Virtual tour of a Virtual reality, but I'm likening this to when you are house-hunting and viewing a walking video of the prospective home online.  Research shows us that we remember things better when we mentally take note of the need to remember something, prior to its occurring.  It serves to have our minds turn on mental videotape and enhances our recall.  Use this when touring through your palace, consciously walking through with your virtual camcorder in hand.  

Speeches and presentations are obvious uses for your Memory Palace but so too are the details of your latest project, facts and figures you need to recall, information that is important for you to access quickly.  If you find it impossible to second-guess what information the boss may ask for at the next meeting you may want to begin building your palace and storing all relevant information into it - ensuring that you always have access to whatever they may ask for just one virtual step away.

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