She said: “I have been giving speeches for 10 years. You’d think I’d be more comfortable with it by now! But I’m always afraid that my mind will go blank. That thought alone makes me so nervous!”
Those were the words of a woman I worked with during a recent public speaking workshop.
It happens to all of us. The more important the occasion, the more you care about an issue, the more worried you are that your mind will go blank.
There are ways to prevent it in advance and there are ways to deal with it when it happens. Let’s go through each one.
First, don’t memorize a script. When you memorize, you become an actor reciting lines instead of a genuine person having a conversation with the audience. Instead of memorizing your script, draft bullet points of your remarks and practice giving the speech from those bullet points. Each time, you’ll say something slightly different but each time it will be genuine.
Second, draft your main points in advance. One client I worked with mentioned that when she debates someone who doesn’t believe in the value of her work, she gets so angry that her mind goes blank. I reminded her that because this situation happens frequently, she can anticipate those questions in advance and prepare notes with her main points so that she has them in front of her, like a trusty guide, to keep her focused.
Third, make sure your speech is logical. Another key to prevent your mind going blank is to make sure your speech flows logically from one point to the next. When I’m practicing a speech out loud and can’t remember what comes next, it’s usually because I didn’t take the time to bridge the two ideas. My mind goes blank because my speech lacks structure.
Fourth, calm and center yourself in advance. The more you can relax before your speech, the more present and focused you will be in front of an audience. Take 10 minutes for yourself and walk through these 5 steps to center yourself before the speech.
The more you can relax before your speech, the more present and focused you will be in front of an audience.
But still: what if your mind goes blank even having done all of the above?
- This is the technique I recommend to all my clients:Pause and calmly take a sip of water (which is hopefully located on the nearby lectern or a small table)
- Nod thoughtfully while looking down at your notes
- Find your place
- Keep going with your presentation
You don’t need to tell the audience that you lost your place. Most of the time, they won’t even notice. Simply pause and breathe, find your place, and move on. If you catch yourself rambling and want to get back on track, pause and nod, then say Let me move on to a different point or Let’s come back to a point I mentioned earlier. You look thoughtful and purposeful.
A note about notes: Prepare your notes in a way that makes it easy to find your place. Print them out in large font with plenty of white space and print them single-sided so you’re not turning papers over in front of your audience.
There are ways to prevent your mind going blank and there are ways to deal with it when it happens. Find the right way to prepare and center yourself, and you will ensure that even if your mind does go blank, you can smoothly move through it and give an impactful presentation.