“How do I stop my mind from going blank when I’m speaking in front of an audience?”
This is one of the most common fears people have when they are speaking off the cuff in meetings or to groups. My first response here is the one I always give – try not to overthink it, because the more you worry about it, the more likely it is to happen! More on how not to overthink it here. And while you’re working on that, here are 5 practical tips to manage those brain-freeze moments that we all inevitably have, and get back on track with your talk…
1. Slow down your speaking pace
When you ‘go blank’, it’s usually because you are talking too quickly – thoughts are coming out of your mouth as soon as they are produced. If you do this, then your pace is too fast for you and your audience. The goal is not to say everything that comes into your head and then dive off stage. The goal is filter your thoughts as you go to be more strategic with the information you offer. Slowing right down will buy you thinking time and therefore improve your content. In general, when you are presenting, aim to speak slightly slower than you would in a 1:1 conversation.
2. Pause regularly
Buy yourself more thinking time with pauses. If you have a habit of trying to fill the silence, start practising pausing – try inserting a 5 second pause next time you are presenting to a group. What you will discover is that no one even notices! In fact, people need this pause to absorb the information you are giving them – it makes your message more powerful, and gives you crucial thinking time to get back on track with your talk.
3. Use repetition
If you come to the end of a sentence and you’re not sure where to take your listeners next, paraphrase your last point while you you’re thinking about what to say next. It’s better to have a little repetition than to say the first new thing that comes into your head and take your listeners off in the wrong direction, which is hard to come back from.
4. Get the audience to remind you where you were
If your mind goes blank mid-point, you can always just say to the audience “Where did I get up to?”. Someone sitting at the front will pipe up “You were just saying X…” and you can pick it back up. As always in public speaking, don’t show any embarrassment and certainly don’t apologise! The way to view public speaking is as a conversation between you and your audience – it is right to actively engage them with your talk rather than just put on a show where they are passively listening.
5. Ask the audience
If you get asked a question you’re struggling to answer, let someone in the audience handle it. Just say – “Before I answer, I’d love to know what you think about this. Anyone got any thoughts to share?” There is always someone who will put forward their opinion which will give you the kick start you need. It’s also a great way to wake everyone up!
Of course the best way to practise using these techniques is to get out and practise your impromptu speaking! Take up every opportunity you can to speak in public, in work, at social events, down the pub… and of course in our workshops: