I have stood on a stage and told jokes for a little over three years now, and I think my memory has got worse. To start with I would practice my 5 minute set half a dozen times during the day, and emblazoned my set into my brain, to the point where I could see the words on the page as I said them. Whether or not this is conducive to a successful comedy performance is another question.
As time went by I found myself with less time to rehearse, plus this technique is not fool proof. There have been times when despite rehearsals I have managed to miss things, or got sections in the wrong order.
More recently I have written my set list on my hand and spend half the set gazing at the resulting black smudge, which is about as good a look as losing your place entirely.
So I decided I need a better technique. I experimented with a ‘bead and thread’ method, where the string is the thread that runs through your talk and the beads are the key moments you want to remember.
However the problem with this was that it was very difficult to remember what order the beads were in. Then I remembered something about ‘memory palaces.’
What on earth is a memory palace and how will this help me?
I prefer to think of it as a memory walk. I don’t know about you but the only palaces I’ve ever visited weren’t particularly memorable, as I only visited once. However I have vivid memories of places I visited regularly as a child. One of these will do nicely.
How to create a memory walk
This takes focus and a little bit of quiet concentration. If you’re into meditation, I would recommend doing some before you start, to quiet your head down. Memory is a brain-wide process, so the quieter your whole brain can be at the beginning, the better this is likely to go.
Write a simple shopping list, or dig out an existing set list to practice with.
- Remember a journey that you have taken a lot. Ideally this will have lots of interesting sights or bits of street furniture on it that you can turn into ‘stations.’ Walk the journey through in your mind a few times, noting any interesting places along the way.
- Break the walk down into ‘stations’, in the order that you first envisioned the walk.
- Move through the stations, placing an item on your set/shopping list at each one. Make the imagery as vivid as possible. If the item can interact with a place on the walk in a surprising way, so much the better.
If helpful, combine the image with a number so that you will easily be able to recall which item on your list you have got to with each station. You could place two mental images of the item at station number two, for example. Later on, six people holding item number six. Or somebody in a number 7 football shirt holding item number 7. The more imaginative you can be with this, the better.
It may also be useful to create a ‘9 station’ memory walk and a ’12 station’ memory walk, for example, so that you have completely different journeys for different set lengths/shopping lists.
Are there any other techniques that are helpful?