Drawing a blank when making a public presentation can be a destabilising feeling for anyone, and if it’s not dealt with effectively, it could derail your momentum.
Of course, lack of preparedness will affect your ability to deliver a strong message, however, even the most prepared of presenters can suffer a slip of memory.
“If you’ve been in this situation, you know how awful that feeling can be — and how hard it is to shake off and regain your footing,” Anett Grant, chief executive of Executive Speaking, writes at FastCompany.
“So, what can you do to prevent these mental wipe-outs from happening in the first place?”
Grant says there are a number of techniques that can help you keep on track.
Simplicity can be effective, but don’t take it too far
When speaking in public, should you be simplifying or elaborating?
Keeping things simple can help to deliver a message with focus, however, it is important not to take it too far.
As Grant notes, “if you try searching for just one word or phrase that describes a few different ideas, you may not actually hit on the right one”, and as a result thoughts can become convoluted.
“When you’re preparing for a presentation, pin down each of your main ideas first, then search for straightforward language to convey them,” he writes.
“If you try to oversimplify things, you may find yourself struggling to find it while all eyes are on you.”
Avoid stating how many points you intend to make
Stating how many points you intend on making in your presentation can create additional pressure. You may lose track of which point you are on, having already committed yourself to a specific number.
“You should probably avoid telling your audience how many points you’re going to be making,” Grant writes.
“Once your listeners have a number in their heads, they’ll start counting. If you forget which point you’re on, you’ll encounter that dreaded awkward silence as you try to remember where you left off.”
Avoid ending with pronouns
Vague references are best avoided, and speakers can be well served by repetition, suggests Grant.
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“Pronouns like ‘that’ are too vague for public speaking,” he says.
“Once you start explaining yourself, you could end up forgetting what ‘that’ was referencing to begin with.”
Grant believes speakers should not be afraid of sounding repetitive.
“Repetition is actually a handy device for reminding both you and your audience what you’re talking about,” he writes.
Keeping your rhythm
Following a stumble speakers will need to get back on track, and Grant advises that the first step “is simply to breathe”.
“When you breathe, you can get your body back in sync, and your thoughts will flow,” he writes.
The connection goes from “mind to body and body to mind”.
“So, if you can stay in sync with the rhythm of your talk, you’re less likely to lose your place to begin with.”