At Ty Boyd, we do not encourage our clients to memorize their presentations. Instead, we coach them to know what they want to say and where they are going, and then to trust themselves to find the right words in the moment. Of course, this requires a great deal of preparation and practice, but speaking from the heart comes across as far more genuine and authentic and is better received by the audience.
That said, the exercise of memorizing, practicing and reciting a famous speech or poem has tremendous benefits, not the least of which is to earn an enormous sense of accomplishment which is beautifully portrayed by the boys who recite The Gettysburg Address in Ken Burns’ documentary The Address.
Abraham Lincoln would likely be surprised by Ken Burns’ documentary which tells the story of a school in Vermont where each year the students are encouraged to memorize, practice and recite the Gettysburg Address. After all, the 16th president thought that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”
Lincoln was wrong; the world absolutely noted what he said and will never forget it. It can be argued that the battle itself was less important that the speech which remains a testament to the principles that Americans hold near and dear.
The Greenwood School was founded in 1978 as an independent boarding school for boys with learning disabilities. Almost immediately, reciting Lincoln’s famed Civil War speech became part of the school’s mission. In the film, Ken Burn shows the boys struggling to learn the difficult words of The Gettysburg Address – words that would give most children without learning impairments trouble. At first, the memorization process seems quite mechanical as the viewer watches the boys recite the lines in a sort of sing-song way without worrying too much about their meaning. But as the documentary progresses, something beautiful happens as the memorization process gives way to performance and the boys begin to feel the actual sense of the words.
They not only learn about study skills, but about determination, and about reaching far beyond their comfort zones. There is a risk of failure and facing that fear is important; it’s where their confidence comes from. As the boys push through, they find their own strength and resilience and they seem genuinely surprised and overjoyed by their ability to memorize and recite arguably the most famous speech in American history. That’s a feeling that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.