When I stood up on stage to give my very first conference talk, I had the dreaded moment we all know and intimately fear: forgetting everything I wanted to say. I stared blankly at the audience, with deep panic bubbling up in my legs, rolling up to my stomach, and boiling over in my brain.
I felt utterly and desperately helpless.
In this article, I’m going to cover several strategies you can use the next time your mind goes blank – so you don’t ever have to feel that pain.
Here’s the game plan:
Strategy 1: Retrace your steps
Here’s a quick fix to get out of a brain freeze: rephrase the last thing you said.
When you’re overloaded with anxiety and can’t think straight, your mind is unmoored from the present. You need to bring it back to thinking clearly in the here and now, rather than remembering similar experiences from your past or fretting about what people will think in the future.
Say something like this: “Let me rephrase that last point a different way.”
Then retrace your steps and walk back out loud through your last idea.
This strategy not only reminds your audience what’s going on. It also reminds you.
Strategy 2: Ask for help
Sometimes you can’t get out of the rut yourself. Sometimes you can’t even remember what your last point was!
In these cases, get help from the audience. Say something like this, “I was so focused on the last point I totally forgot where we are. Can someone remind me what I just said?”
This works if you pull it off calmly and genuinely. Everyone knows these moments happen to all of us. And everyone wants to see others succeed.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it can build even greater rapport with your audience by letting them share a humorous moment together with you.
Strategy 3: Pause
Above all, the approach I recommend most is the following: just pause. And lean into the silence. Give yourself time to gather your thoughts again.
In that silence, the audience has no idea what’s going on. And that’s ok – their anticipation is building toward your next word.
And in that silence, you are, unbeknownst to them, gradually calming down.
You can breathe slowly in and out. You can practice positive self-talk statements like:
– “This happens to everyone. This does not affect how effective my presentation is.”
– “No one is judging me. It only becomes a problem if I make it one.”
– “I can figure this out.”
Then, when the train of thought comes back to you, you can come out of the pause and knock it out of the park.
Brain freeze and blank minds happen to everyone. It’s not the end of the world.
Depending on your personality and speaking style, you can easily recover in 3 ways:
1. Retrace your steps
2. Ask the Audience
The mark of a confident presenter is not being flawless. It’s about knowing what to do gracefully when things don’t go according to plan.
If you’re looking for guidance on speaking confidently and no longer feeling frazzled talking on the fly, reach out to me here.