The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
It is sheer misdirected effort to begin to memorize by learning words by rote, for that is beginning to build a
pyramid at the apex. For years our schools were cursed by this vicious system--vicious not only because it is
inefficient but for the more important reason that it hurts the mind. True, some minds are natively endowed
with a wonderful facility in remembering strings of words, facts, and figures, but such are rarely good
reasoning minds; the normal person must belabor and force the memory to acquire in this artificial way.
Again, it is hurtful to force the memory in hours of physical weakness or mental weariness. Health is the basis
of the best mental action and the operation of memory is no exception.
Finally, do not become a slave to a system. Knowledge of a few simple facts of mind and memory will set you
to work at the right end of the operation. Use these principles, whether included in a system or not, but do not
bind yourself to a method that tends to lay more stress on the way to remember than on the development of
memory itself. It is nothing short of ridiculous to memorize ten words in order to remember one fact.
The Natural Laws of Memory
Concentrated attention at the time when you wish to store the mind is the first step in memorizing--and the
most important one by far. You forgot the fourth of the list of articles your wife asked you to bring home
chiefly because you allowed your attention to waver for an instant when she was telling you. Attention may
not be concentrated attention. When a siphon is charged with gas it is sufficiently filled with the carbonic acid
vapor to make its influence felt; a mind charged with an idea is charged to a degree sufficient to hold it. Too
much charging will make the siphon burst; too much attention to trifles leads to insanity. Adequate attention,
then, is the fundamental secret of remembering.
Generally we do not give a fact adequate attention when it does not seem important. Almost everyone has
seen how the seeds in an apple point, and has memorized the date of Washington's death. Most of us
have--perhaps wisely--forgotten both. The little nick in the bark of a tree is healed over and obliterated in a
season, but the gashes in the trees around Gettysburg are still apparent after fifty years. Impressions that are
gathered lightly are soon obliterated. Only deep impressions can be recalled at will. Henry Ward Beecher said:
"One intense hour will do more than dreamy years." To memorize ideas and words, concentrate on them until
they are fixed firmly and deeply in your mind and accord to them their true importance. LISTEN with the
mind and you will remember.
How shall you concentrate? How would you increase the fighting-effectiveness of a man-of-war? One vital
way would be to increase the size and number of its guns. To strengthen your memory, increase both the
number and the force of your mental impressions by attending to them intensely. Loose, skimming reading,
and drifting habits of reading destroy memory power. However, as most books and newspapers do not warrant
any other kind of attention, it will not do altogether to condemn this method of reading; but avoid it when you
are trying to memorize.
Environment has a strong influence upon concentration, until you have learned to be alone in a crowd and
undisturbed by clamor. When you set out to memorize a fact or a speech, you may find the task easier away
from all sounds and moving objects. All impressions foreign to the one you desire to fix in your mind must be
The next great step in memorizing is to pick out the essentials of the subject, arrange them in order, and dwell
upon them intently. Think clearly of each essential, one after the other. Thinking a thing--not allowing the
mind to wander to non-essentials--is really memorizing.
Association of ideas is universally recognized as an essential in memory work; indeed, whole systems of
memory training have been founded on this principle.