Understanding the Serial Position Effect in Public Speaking

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  • 0:01 Understanding the…
  • 0:40 What Is the Serial…
  • 2:18 Strategies in Public Speaking
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

You don't know it, but the serial position effect has a major impact on how you memorize your speech and other pieces of information. In this lesson, you will learn some tips and tricks to memorizing information and how to understand the serial position effect.

Understanding the Serial Position Effect

Percy is trying to memorize his speech about Greek mythology for his ancient world history class. He tries to memorize the speech all at once, starting from the beginning and practicing over and over again until he is able to recite his speech. He goes over to his friend Jason's house to practice. After he gives his speech, Jason has some feedback for him. Percy did well at the beginning and end of the speech but missed some things in the middle. This is a phenomenon known as the serial position effect.

In this lesson, you will learn about the serial position effect, primacy and recency, and the strategies you can use to help you memorize in public speaking.

What Is the Serial Position Effect?

The serial position effect is the psychological theory that an individual recalls information differently depending on the order in which the information is presented. This means that as you are trying to memorize a speech, or test material, or a script for a play, there is a difference in how you remember this information. This difference depends on which material you worked on first, in the middle, or last. This is called primacy and recency.

Primacy is the ability of an individual to recall the first information memorized. This means that you are more likely to remember the information that you started memorizing first. This makes a lot of sense if you try to memorize a speech from beginning to end. You are naturally going to work on the beginning of the speech more often than the rest of your speech. Think about it; if you try to memorize your speech from beginning to end, you will end up saying the beginning of the speech more often than the middle or the end of your speech.

Recency is the ability of an individual to recall the last, or most recent, piece of information memorized. This means that as you are memorizing, you are more likely to remember the end of your speech or whatever material you've worked on the most recently. This is because the information is stored in your short-term memory, allowing your brain to access the information more readily.

You've probably noticed that there is not a term for the middle of your speech, and this is because you are most likely to not remember the middle of your speech. You aren't likely to work on the middle of your speech as much as the beginning of your speech, and you haven't worked on it as recently as the end of your speech. Keeping these things in mind, let's discuss some strategies you can take to memorize your speech.

Strategies in Public Speaking

  • Chunking
  • Keywords/mnemonic devices
  • Repetition

Chunking is when you take your speech and group it into different sections. This is usually done by a paragraph or even by topic. Percy has a speech with five paragraphs, formatted like a standard five-paragraph essay. He can group each part of his speech by paragraphs, which should also be the introduction, three main points, and the conclusion of his speech. Focus on one paragraph each day, and then work on putting the whole speech together on the last day. By memorizing each paragraph separately, and by working equal amounts of time on each paragraph, Percy will be able to avoid most of the disadvantages of the serial position effect. However, he will still need to practice the entirety of his speech before he is ready to present.

As you memorize sentences or paragraphs, you will also need to remember the order that they go in your speech. If you have a long speech to memorize and you are using the chunking method, you may have difficulty remembering which paragraph goes where in your speech. To overcome this, use keywords or mnemonic devices to help you memorize the order. You've probably heard 'Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.' This is a mnemonic device used in mathematics to remember the order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiply or divide, add or subtract. Using the first letter of each word in the order of operations, a mnemonic device creates a memorable phrase out of these letters.

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