What to Do When Your Mind Goes Blank
According to most surveys the number one fear of most people is the fear of giving a speech. And the greatest fear of all — at least when it comes to speaking — is the fear of having your mind go completely blank.
The problem is fear.
When you’re afraid, your body shifts into its fight-or-flight mode. Blood rushes to the large muscles — your arms and legs — so you can take action. And blood leaves the parts of the brain that aren’t helpful in a fight or a race — parts of the brain that govern memory and verbal skills.
The cycle goes like this. Fear makes you forget where you were in your speech. Which makes you more afraid. Which makes you less able to remember what you planned on saying. Which makes the audience aware of the fact that you’ve forgotten what you were going to say. Which makes you more afraid. And so on.
Here’s the solution.
1. Back up.
Summarize the point you just finished making. Often, repeating your previous point, like retracing your steps before taking a leap, will give you momentum to carry you forward.
2. Check your notes.
Even if you speak without a podium, keep your notes — at least an outline — nearby just in case something like this happens.
3. Ask your audience for help.
Say, “I got so caught up in what I was saying that I lost my place. Where was I?” Someone will tell you. (This is especially true if earlier in your introduction you enumerated your main points.) Making your audience part of your presentation is a good thing.
4. Say something.
Say anything. The longer you remain silent, grasping for exactly the right word, the more your anxiety (and the audience’s) will grow. Try to recall anything relevant to your speech, the audience, or the occasion, and say it. Once you begin talking, your memory will mostly likely kick into gear.
5. Check your attitude.
Perfectionism is the undoing of many speakers. It’s based on the illusion that if we work hard enough, we can avoid making mistakes, losing control, or looking foolish. Don’t try to give a flawless presentation; focus instead on serving your audience to the best of your ability.
6. Remember that your audience wants you to succeed.
(Your mind is much more likely, by the way, to go blank, if you’re trying to memorize your speech. Don’t focus on saying exactly the right words. Focus, instead, on communicating the concepts you have in mind.)
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Chris Witt, a coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to give more effective presentations. If you’re interested in learning more about how you could benefit from his coaching, contact him for a complimentary call.