How to Memorize a Monologue Fast In Just 10 Easy Steps

how to memorize a monologue fast feature imageWant to know how to memorize a monologue fast?

I don’t blame you if your mind is bogged down with questions. When I was preparing to memorize my TEDx Talk, I wasn’t entirely sure how to best approach the task either.

Strange, I know, especially given that I was invited to give the talk as a memory expert.

All the same, I had the same questions that many people face when approaching a task that involves reciting a lot of text from memory… without any cue lines from other actors to help you out.

These questions include:

Should you memorize the monologue word for word?

Or is there a form of “compression” that allows you to memorize any monologue without having to create a mnemonic association for each and every word?

The answer is yes. There is an approach that makes memorizing texts easier and faster.

And once you have this technique under your belt, all that stress and anxiety around your auditions will permanently melt away.

So if you’re ready to impress every casting agent in the industry for the rest of your career, all you have to do is read this post. Then turn the knowledge and experience I’m about to share into action.

Let’s get started.

How to Memorize a Monologue Quickly in 10 Steps

Most trainings on monologue memorization talk about breaking the piece down and emotionally connecting with the piece.

That’s all fine and dandy.

But the real magic happens when you have a robust mnemonic strategy that goes beyond your standard memory techniques.

The ultimate of these strategies is called a Memory Palace. When using it, you’ll automatically break the monologue down into manageable parts.

But to use the technique, you need to actually have a Memory Palace. But developing and using one is not necessarily the first step.

I’ll walk you through the Memory Palace technique and give you some examples. First, however, please make sure to consider zooming out for one of the most important memory aids of them all.

Step One: Read And Analyze The Entire Piece The Monologue Comes From

So much of acting is actually understanding.

You need to understand the motivations and the reason characters wind up having them in the first place.

Sometimes it’s perfectly okay to read the piece in isolation. Other times, you will benefit from additional research. Your character might live in a different era or area of the world, for example.

Or your character might embody a belief system that is different than your own. It can be useful to know more about what the character you’ll be performing holds dear.

Textual analysis will also be useful, but not necessarily by reading all kinds of commentary. You’ll want to think reflectively for yourself about what the text means. That will help you adopt the role and let the character (or your message) inhabit your mind more completely.

Step Two: Choose A Suitable Memory Palace

In case you’re new to the Memory Palace technique, it’s simple to grasp. All you do is select a familiar location, create a mental journey through it and then lay breadcrumbs that help you recall what you want to remember.

For example, to remember my TEDx Talk, I chose the apartment I was living in and used the surrounding neighborhood. It was the perfect size for just over thirteen minutes of material.

To rapidly create a Memory Palace without turning it into an epic task, I suggest you draw a floor plan based on the location you choose. Keep in mind the amount of material you need to memorize.

For a four page monologue, I needed one apartment and the sidewalk space along a couple of short streets.

If it helps your imagination, you can pick a location that is thematically related to the topic of your monologue. For example, if it’s about health, you could choose a hospital or a spa. If you’re reciting the speech of a criminal, you could choose the area around a police station, etc.

Then, you want to break your text down into individual lines. Rather than try to tackle a “wall of text” in the form of long paragraphs, separate the text into 1-2 lines maximum. That will make it easier for you to focus on matching the lines to the various areas in your Memory Palace.

Here’s the Memory Palace I used for the monologue I delivered for the TEDx audience. It’s based on a Brisbane neighborhood I used to live in.The Memory Palace I used for my TEDx monologue

The red line indicates the journey I followed. Each of the tritons indicates the “stations” where I assigned the associations that helped me memorize each and every word of the monologue.

I’ll explain how you can do this yourself next.

Step Three: Assign “Magnetic” Associations

When using a Memory Palace, we want to use as few associations as possible for the maximum amount of words without sacrificing accuracy.

To show you how this is done, let’s take an example from Shakespeare. This is the opening of Hamlet’s famous monologue:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d.

how to memorize a monologue using a memory palace example 1

In the pictured example, a swan and a bumblebee are placed on the walls of a standard living room.

Why a swan?

Using the pegword method, each number from 0-9 can be given a simple image. For words like “to” a swan is perfect because it looks a bit like the number 2.

As for the “bee,” when we want to remember “to be or not to be,” this insect sounds identical to “be.” To get the rest of the phrase, you can imagine the swan tying the bee up in knots, which would give you the word “not.”

Carrying on, move to the next station in the Memory Palace and place an association that helps you remember the words.

how to memorize a monologue memory palace example 2

In this next example, I’ve taken the character Quincy and imposed a giant question mark on the Memory Palace station. Quincy is not only a character who is inquisitive, but his name starts with a Q to drive home the words in this line of the monologue.

The goal is to have your images match the sounds of the words as closely as possible.

Step Four: Focus On Keywords

In the beginning, some people will need an association for each and every word in their monologue (the, but, and, if, etc.)

That’s okay, but you want to move away from this reliance as quickly as possible.

Take an example from Shakespeare:

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

What would you say are the keywords in this phrase? For me, they are:

  • Heart-ache
  • Thousand
  • Natural
  • Shocks

To compress these, we can use the link and story method within the Memory Palace.

mnemonic example for rapidly memorizing a shakespearian monologue from hamlet

Using your imagination, imagine a story told in graffiti on the wall of a Memory Palace. Your heart breaks, spilling Thousand Island salad dressing all over a horse. The horse goes “neigh” is response and shoots lightning bolts from his hooves, shocking some “flesh” on the barbeque.

This story encodes the keywords in the entire line, and connects with a keyword in the following line.

It may take a bit of practice, but once you’ve got the hang of things, this technique is incredibly fast.

Step Five: Recall Rehearsal

Think of your Memory Palaces as theatre stages and your associations as actors. You’re the director.

In order to get the best out of your players, you need them to rehearse their lines. Memory techniques are the same way when it comes to establishing long term recall.

The beauty is that with these techniques, we can minimize the amount of repetition required and avoid the perils of rote repetition.

To perform effective Recall Rehearsal, go over all of your associations in a linear manner by decoding the images you laid out in the Memory Palace.

For bonus points, run them backwards as well. This will help you improve your recall and reduce the amount of repetition required.

This process words because you’re using active recall, which essentially causes your brain to make stronger connections, faster.

As I discuss in this video, I also like to recall my memorized monologues in different orders to make the memorization process go even faster:

Step Six: The Power of Writing

Even before you feel fully confident in hour associations, I recommend you start writing your monologue out from memory by hand.

In fact, the actor Ashley Strand told me on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, that you should also write out your interpretation. He’s committed the entire Book of Mark to memory and performed it as a one-man show, so he really knows his stuff.

Yes, you can type what you’ve memorized if you’re a computer fan, but I don’t think that you’ll get the same benefits. Writing by hand is organic, uses more muscles and more of your eyes due to the hand-eye coordination that is not necessarily engaged by typing.

In fact, my feelings on the matter are backed by scientific studies. These researchers used MRI analysis to demonstrate that people who wrote notes by hand remembered more.

The reason? Writing activates more of the brain.

How many times should you write out your memorized monologue from memory?

Ultimately, the answer will come down to personal preference. I wrote my TEDx Talk by hand three times for good measure. I even wrote it out backwards one of those times to make sure it was extra committed to memory.

The next question that arises is how often do you need to recite the monologue in order to keep it in memory? My preference is to follow the science of spaced repetition. Again, the exact answer will come down to some personalization.

But as a general guideline, aim to recite the monologue once a day for each day leading up to the delivery. Once you have delivered the monologue, you can experiment with a retention pattern like this:

  • Once a week for five weeks
  • One a month for five months
  • Once a year for five years

Then, if you need to perform the monologue again in a live setting, go back to once a day for at least five days before you need to perform. That’s what I would do if I was asked to deliver my TEDx Talk again at another venue. Even though I’d be able to revive it quickly, I’d still want to write it out daily for at least five days before delivering it again.

Step Seven: Speak Your Monologue

I’m a believer in memorizing the text of a monologue simply as text. I don’t worry too much about its meaning or the emotions involved because all of that can be considered from within memory later.

In fact, it’s when speaking the material from memory that you really start to observe what your monologue is really all about.

As you practice speaking it, try different kinds of presentation:

  • By yourself in front of a mirror
  • Audio recording
  • Video recording
  • While walking around

I did all of these things for my TEDx Talk. Walking around was especially powerful, and these days people talk with earbuds in everywhere you go. No one notices what you’re doing.

a man is walking around near the ocean

As you practice reciting your monologue, layer in the emotions and gestures you want to come through in your recitation.

Step Eight: Rest and Reflect

It’s very important to not overwork yourself. There’s a process called diffuse thinking that helps consolidate our memories, and it only works when we stop applying effort to the learning task.

You can get enough rest by going to bed early, hanging out with friends, reading something unrelated, or even using memory techniques for a different outcome. For example, you might want to memorize the lines of a play you’re just interested in, but not responsible for performing.

As you turn your attention away from the goal of memorizing the monologue, you’ll probably find that ideas about it flash into your mind.

Keep a notebook handy so that you can capture these ideas. Many will be useful for enhancing your performance.

Step Nine: Deep Relaxation

Many actors are already well-versed in relaxing themselves and entering the performance space with total confidence.

For those who aren’t, I highly recommend the following:

  • Morning Tai Chi or Qigong routines
  • Meditation (ideally with a memory component)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Kirtan kriya

As an added bonus, using the memory techniques for long form monologue memorization will itself create a meditative effect. Passage memorization is deeply rewarding.

Step Ten: Study Other Actors

I mentioned Ashley Strand above, the actor who memorized and turned the Book of Mark into a one-man show. You can learn a lot from a thespian like that.

My friend and fellow memory expert Mark Channon was an actor too before he won the World Memory Competition. He’s written a book specifically for actors who need memory help.

Although I’m not an actor myself, I have performed many times as a card magician. My shows involved more than a little acting. I’ve long gotten memory tips from actors for both inspiration and insight.

Finally, it’s worth constantly studying as many memory strategies as you can. You never know when you might stumble upon a mnemonic technique that you never considered before. It could be just the thing that opens up new insights and paths to speedier retention for you.

As all actors know, when it comes to memorizing monologues, speed of retention is a major asset.

Memorizing Monologues Is Fast And Easy

As you can see, it’s fun to create Memory Palaces and populate them with associations.

You don’t have to stress over each and every word, but if you find that you want to in the beginning, you now have the pegword method to help you come up with associations.

The final step is to get to your auditions, earn the roles and wow audiences around the world.

And if you need more help, get my FREE Memory Improvement Kit:

Free Memory Improvement Course

You’ll learn more about the Memory Palace technique and how to create powerful associations that propel the target lines from your monologue into your mind.

So what do you say?

Are you ready to get out there and start memorizing your monologue?

Let me know in the comments what you’re working on and happy memorizing!

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Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

His most popular books include, The Victorious Mind and… Read More

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