What Do You Do If Your Mind Goes Blank When Public Speaking by Peter Dhu

One of the worst nightmares associated with public speaking is the fear of going blank during your presentation. We call this phenomenon various names including mind drains, brain freeze, going blank, losing it and in my case, a senior’s moment. We have all seen people who have struggled when trying to remember some detail or some facts.

Michael Grinder talks about how it is more important to recover than it is to be perfect. Lots of things can happen when you are public speaking, including equipment failures, time pressures and your mind going blank. No speaker is perfect, and it is how you recover from the event that is important. 

Here are some recovery strategies that you can use when your mind goes blank when public speaking.

  • Don’t mention it

If you don’t tell your audience that you lost your way or had a brain drain, your audience will not know. Your audience generally has no idea of what you are going to say next so they wouldn’t really know if your mind went blank unless you tell them.

  • Ask your audience to do something 

Use the time when your audience is doing an activity or an exercise to recover or gather your thoughts. Asking your audience to do something is also a way to engage your audience and make your presentation more interactive. 

  • Go to your notes or cheat sheet
    The alternative to worrying about your mind going blank or having a brain drain while presenting is to read from your script, word by word. But that’s not good public speaking. But it’s not saying you shouldn’t have notes. You should have notes or a mind map that you can use as a backup, especially if you know you’re at risk of going blank in the middle of your presentation. 
  • Go back to core message
    When your mind goes blank and you lose track of what you’re going to say next, you can always default and go back to your core message. That will generally buy you time that you can use to recover the thoughts that you were going to say. You want your audience to walk away with your core message, so there’s no harm in emphasising that and reiterating it a couple of times during your talk.
  • Remain calm and carry on 

The ability to stay calm while under fire is a wonderful trait. When you realize that you’ve got nothing or you’re not sure what you’re going to say next, staying calm really helps. 

The next time you are presenting and your mind goes blank, don’t panic, remain calm and use one of these strategies to recover. Remember that even the most professional public speaker can lose their train of thought and forget what they’re going to say next. So, this is something that happens normally and can be inevitable. So, what you can do is to prepare and practice how you will recover. 

If you would like to learn more on how to think and speak on your feet, I am running a workshop on Thinking and Speaking Off The Cuff on 14 February.

Comments 2

  1. Very much topical at present – didn’t Prime Minister BoJo just have a mind blank moment earlier this week – he was talking about how to revitalise urban growth (or something equally riveting), lost the plot for a few seconds and recovered by heading off at a total tangent and riffing about his affection for Pepper Pig, or something! It made world news! 🙂

    1. Post

      Thanks, Mark for the comment and yes it seems to be a common event in politics. And that may be partly because they are in the public eye so much and under pressure.
      And it is the recovery that is important and going off on a tangent is generally not a good recovery strategy.
      Regards, Peter Dhu

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