Memorising Speech, On A Walk Round The Block

You don’t need a dog. You can do this without – but dogs are handy because they slow you down as you walk.

This morning, as is customary, I took Peanut (beloved schnauzer) out of the house while listening to BBC Radio 4 on my iPhone.

This is a one-off post for would-be public speakers.

It was just after 8am, when the Today programme features a big interview. And this was a particularly big interview, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, on the occasion of his making a massive and humiliating U-turn.

To be perfectly clear, the Chancellor and his U-turn is not the point of this post. Nor is Peanut. The point is to emphasise how strongly we connect ideas to location, and how that can be useful to you if you are trying to memorise text.

We turned left out of the house, crossed the road, went down the hill, turned onto the main road, then doubled back up a narrow path, opening onto a quiet road, then turned left at the top onto another main road, and finally left onto the street where we started – and home.

In other words, we basically went around the block.


Listen Again

At home, somebody else had just started listening to the Chancellor’s interview on catch-up. Having heard it to the end, I had no interest in hearing it again. But I had a cup of tea to drink.

Kitchen table, typical morning.

And as I slowly emptied my cup, I realised that I knew almost exactly what was coming next. It was surprisingly exciting.

I pressed Pause on my companion’s iPhone.

“In a moment, he’s going to ask why the chancellor sacked his most senior civil servant…” I explained that the interviewer had asked that at exactly the moment I crossed the road with Peanut.

It was just as I said.

I remembered too the Chancellor’s particular tone of rising frustration, as I had first heard it when Peanut sniffed the flowers around a tree trunk on the first main road.

And I remembered letting Peanut off her lead as we turned onto the path, and a neighbour walked down the hill towards us, while they talked about financial markets driving down the value of the Pound.

Down Childs Hill Walk
Up the narrow path.

I remembered needing to get a poo bag from my pocket at exactly the moment the interviewer stated that people around the country would now have to pay a “Kwarteng premium” on their mortgages.

(This isn’t political satire. It’s exactly what happened.)

Further along the path the interviewer cut into the Chancellor scornfully: “That’s a politician’s phrase!” And despite myself, I found myself thinking it was unfair to hold that against somebody who is, after all, a politician.

Under the dead sycamore tree, half-way up the hill, the interviewer accused the Chancellor of rubbishing the Bank of England, and the Chancellor replied that he had never done that.

Around the entrance to the mansion blocks (just off the main road), under pressure to apologise, the Chancellor said there was humility and contrition and he “owned” it.


And My Point Is…?

You might wonder why I bother to type up this dog walk in such detail.

Because it demonstrates beautifully how we can memorise ideas, including specific words, by associating them with places.

Classical rhetoric encouraged people to construct a “memory palace” – a vast building full of ideas, facts, quotations and so on – and to revisit it frequently.

My walk this morning was not intended as an exercise in memory. It just happened naturally.

So: if you want to memorise something, listen to it on a walk around the block.

If you are planning to deliver some kind of speech, make a recording and listen to that. It needn’t be perfect (it won’t be). But listening to it again will be a great way to notice exactly where it works well, and where it could be improved.

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