When A Speaker’s Mind Goes (Completely) Blank
by Claudia Brogan
When working with aspiring speakers, I have found out at least one secret fear that we all have about public speaking.
What will I do if my mind goes blank?
Even more than the fear that there is a trap door in the center of that speaking area, it’s like we WISH there would be a trap door, once our mind has gone blank!
The truth is that this happens to most speakers. The second truth is that –though gulp-inducing— this occurrence is quite survivable, by employing one or more useful tips. The third truth is that by handling the blank-mind moment with grace, this can be an empathetic moment between the speaker and the audience.
Recently I listened to a presentation made by a professional speaker. Having prepared carefully, he spoke without notes and moved comfortably around the front of the room. The opening was smooth and polished, the eye contact direct and connective.
Then came a moment that was Solid Gold.
This speaker drew in a deep breath, looked around the room at his listeners, paused…and then he apparently drew a complete blank about the next point he was planning to make. Silence. For what likely felt to him like eons, his brain searched silently for the next logical words.
Swiftly, you could feel the atmosphere in the room become thick with focus. Each audience member related to this speaker. I think we have all been in his shoes.
I noticed as folks around the room watched him, with empathy and good-vibes and patience. Each of us itching along with him. Each of us willing the Next Good Idea.
And THEN, voila! Along came his inspiration, and his visible Ah-Ha, and out came his excellent remarks. They were splendid.
This professional modeled for each and every one of us right then, “You’re a good speaker, you can do this. Give it a gulp. But stand right up there. Take a few seconds, take as long as you like. Be present. And your next thought will come. It will. Trust it, then speak it, then you’ll have the audience right in your hands.”
Four tips for preparing yourself for this event, if you find that your mind goes blank:
- Breathe in calmly. Pause, look at audience members. As he was silent, the most brilliant thing that this speaker did was refuse to panic. Refrain from nervous gestures or apologies. Simply pause.
- Have an emergency plan on hand: set a notecard on the podium with a few key words to prompt you. Also have a pertinent quote on that card, which you can read to the audience. Walk purposely to the location where your notecard is located.
- Try repeating with emphasis the last sentence that you had just said. To reinforce the idea, to underscore its relevance, but also with the idea that this will serve as a “page refresh” in your memory, which is very likely.
- As you begin any speech, always have your conclusion sentence in mind. No matter where you’re going, know where you will end up. If you lose your train of thought along the way, then move ahead to your conclusion — deliver it with emphasis and poise. That will give the audience a strong takeaway at the close of your remarks.
I got the chance to witness an excellent example of a speaker’s Grace Under Pressure. Wholly survivable, this experience worked well for him and for his audience. With practice and forethought, the same can be true for you.
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.