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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Remember that your audience wants you to
(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
Check out How
to Connect with your Audience and Yourself or Overcoming the Fear
of Public Speaking.
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