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UK Politics

How did Ed Miliband remember all 6,000 words of his conference speech without notes or a teleprompter?


An amazing feat of memory is one of the accolades given to Ed Milliband for his 6,000 words speech today which he delivered without notes or a teleprompter. So how did he do it?

Shakespearian actors can remember large tracts of the Bard word by word, line by line, but Mr Milliband probably hadn’t memorised his speech in the same way as an actor who has to remember his part.

It is more likely that he formulated or visualised an overall structure for his speech that he proceeded to fill in as he went along, supplemented by certain key phrases that he did commit to memory, according to Professor Alan Baddeley, a psychologist at York University.

“My first thoughts are that he almost certainly didn’t memorise 6,000 words. If he were to give this speech again it is very likely that he would use different words,” Professor Baddeley said.

“I give lectures on different subjects and they are never the same. You can do this kind of thing if you are sure of what it is you want to say. If his speech had included a long list of facts, though, he would probably have had to use notes,” he said.

It is possible that Mr Milliband used mnemonic devices to aid his memory, where a memorised saying, acronym, visual scene or even tune is used to recoil a more complex sequence of information. The colours of the rainbow, for instance, are more easily remembered by the mnemonic: Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

In Roman times, politicians or generals used the mnemonic device of visualising different parts of a building to memorise long speeches. Medieval bards did something similar before the days when stories, poems and songs were written down.

However, in Mr Milliband’s case, it is more likely that he had familiarised himself thoroughly with his subject matter, and practised what it was he wanted to say about it in terms of the meaning rather than the verbatim repetition of whole sentences.

“My guess is that he knows about what he wanted to say. He had talked about it and thought about it at lot,” Professor Baddeley said.

However there were certain phrases he must have memorised and practised repeatedly. How else to explain the fluency of his description of the Tories as an “incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, back-of-the-envelope, miserable shower”?