Loco for Loci
I used to be pretty terrible at presenting and public speaking. No matter what the circumstance, I just always seemed to make everyone in the room feel uncomfortable(including myself). As an audience member, witnessing me struggle through a presentation was not a pleasant experience. I’d either remember what I would want to say but sound unauthentic and not present, or I’d forget and start stammering and stuttering like a broken robot. I could tell that most wanted to help me, but all they could do was sit back and hope it didn’t get any worse.
I knew that I needed to improve, so I decided to diagnose and fix the problem. I went out and tried everything to get better. At first I thought I was just nervous in front of people, so I attempted to master my emotional reaction when I stepped up to speak. I attempted to perform breathing exercises so that I felt more calm. Then I would try to picture everyone naked, and unfortunately that would just take my breath away again. Nothing seemed to work.
That’s when I stumbled on a memorization technique called the Method of Loci that literally changed the direction of my life. After learning and mastering it, public speaking became easy and enjoyable. I started to become quite good at it and experienced surprising results.
My last year of college, I was elected president of an influential club that put on weekly meetings and music festivals. I was then selected to be on our university’s business ethics team. We traveled the country delivering business case presentations and even won the International Business Ethics Case Competition(IBECC) in Boston.
Flash forward to today, public speaking is now a sharp weapon for my career advancement. In fact, I recently had to give an hour long presentation on the future of customer experience(CX) to a room full of industry experts for our first annual conference. Besides being afraid, I was thrilled. My colleague, Jake, and I were able to stand up and crush it. I owe it all to this technique.
What and Where
The method of loci (loci being Latin for "places") is also known as a mind palace or the memory journey. This is a method of memory enhancement that creates visualizations with the use of spatial memory to quickly and efficiently recall information. So in other words; use places that you can visually remember in your noggin’ then place images there that remind you of what you’d like to talk about. This makes it much easier for you to remember large amounts of information.
This method was invented more than 2000 years ago by Greeks and then later by Romans. They needed to memorize treaties and speeches because they did not have access to an abundant amount of paper and it was also looked down upon to read your speech(sorta like reading off your slides in a powerpoint presentation).
I found this technique while reading Moonwalking with Einstein which covers the World Memory Championship. This is a fascinating book and I won’t give away any spoilers, but Ed Cooke, a World Memory Champion, describes how he uses the Method of Loci. First, he identifies a very familiar location where he can clearly remember many different smaller locations like his sink in his childhood home or his dog’s bed. At that point, he then places a unique vivid image associated with what you want to remember at each of these locations. Then when you would like to remember these items, you simply ‘walk’ through your memory palace.
Once you get good at creating these memory palaces, you can begin to combine images. The 2006 World Memory Champion, Clemens Mayer, used a 300-point-long journey through his house for his world record, memorizing 1040 random digits in a half-hour. So this can work at a really large scale.
How to Start
Before we begin, I have to warn you that when you first start laying out your mind palace, you will feel pretty silly. You will be tempted to give up and come up with a stupid excuse like you’re not imaginative enough for it to work. Just slap yourself in the face and pull through. You will be surprised how well even the most unimaginative images can stick in your mind.
Let’s say you want to memorize your next presentation with your boss. The first thing you must do is layout what you would like to say and the key points that you want to make sure you talk about. This tool will allow you to remember specific points in your presentation, but you should never try to memorize anything word for word. It’s too much pressure and you will end up sounding unauthentic.
After you’ve got a good idea of what you’d like to say, that’s when we can step into your memory palace(don’t worry, I’ll wipe my feet).
Step 1: Identify a Memory Palace
If this is your first time, I’d recommend choosing a place that you are very familiar with, like your childhood home or your current apartment. This will allow you to spend more time visualizing the information that you will store throughout the journey.
Step 2: Create a Route
Now that you have a place, decide how you will ‘walk’ through the entire palace. There should be a starting point and an ending point. Make sure that it feels like natural and that you feel comfortable with it before moving to the next step.
Step 3: Associate & Place Images
This can be the challenging part for most people that I’ve taught. Break up your presentation into chunks and associate images with those chunks. They don’t have to be exactly correlated, but they should help you remember what you’d like to talk about. Grand Master of Memory, Ed Cooke, recommends that the more outlandish and vulgar the symbol used to memorize the material, the more likely it will stick. So really get creative on the images that you place in your palace.
Step 4: Review and Elaborate
Practice your presentation by going through your memory palace. If you forgot a lot of the presentation, DO NOT FREAK OUT. This is part of the process. Anything that you forgot to mention, go back and create more specifics around the image that you placed.
Let’s say you originally placed a bulldog on your couch so that you mention Georgia being the leading state in Fried Chicken sales(FYI: University of Georgia’s Mascot is a bulldog). But when you walk through it, you completely forget about the damn bulldog. In order to remember it, create more visualization. Imagine that it is a brown bulldog, that it’s wearing a bright red Georgia hat, and it’s drooling all over your couch. The next time you walk through your memory palace, you won’t forget about the fried chicken sales.
Repeat this step until you feel confident with each image you’ve placed.
Step 5: Look like an Absolute Badass
Step up in front of your boss and walk through your mind map. You will feel more confident and be able to stop to answer questions and jump right back into your presentation without much extra thought. They will think you have a superpower and immediately give you a raise. You’re welcome.