Have you ever been in the middle of a great presentation and all of a sudden your mind went completely blank about the next part of your presentation? Have a little sympathy with this guy then:
As you stand there and try to remember what you were going to say next, you can feel the silence growing and the awkwardness build in the room. This is an absolutely terrible feeling but the good news for you is that we’ve got loads of suggestions for things you can do to save face during those awful moments when your mind draws a blank.
1) Paraphrase or summarize your last points
If you find that you’ve gone blank, use this opportunity to summarize what you just said. Tell your audience something like “let’s pause here for a moment, I want to reiterate why this point is so important.” This gives you a bit of extra time to remember why you were heading in the direction you were, and make it seem like you’re building toward a new point.
Paraphrasing itself is something you should practice doing because you don’t want to simply repeat what you’ve just said. Instead, use certain key phrases like ‘the bottom line is’ or ‘the takeaway here should be’. You can also start paraphrasing by starting with a keyword or phrase from what you just spoke about, so your audience will recognize that you’re summarizing.
2) Ask a thought-provoking question
You can also take this opportunity to ask your audience a question that will make them think. It will also give you a minute to gather your thoughts, and knowing the answer to the question will help jog your memory about the topic you were blanking on. Giving your audience the answer to the question or letting them answer will get you back into the right groove. Examples of good questions to ask can be:
- ‘How does the topic we’ve just covered impact your life or your work?’
- ‘Can you give me an example that showcases this topic?’
- ‘What seems to you to be the key takeaway so far?’
3) Drink some water
You should have a bottle of water up on stage with you because it’s important to stay hydrated at all times during your presentation. This is a great way to buy yourself time because your audience won’t question the extra break and the silence will be more natural. While you have a sip of water, take this time to remember where you were. In the Presentation Guru article How to…Break the Pattern‘, Stephen Welch also highlights that having bottle of water on stage allows you to introduce a pause in your performance. Not all silence needs to be awkward!
4) Make your pause look planned
You can always make your pause look planned and say something like “this next part is so crucial that I’d like to read it out loud to you”, at which point you can consult your notes. The takeaway with this point is that you should always have your notes with you during your presentation, either on the lectern or in your pocket. There’s no harm in taking them out to consult them if you present the break as something planned.
Improvising is really important. You need to have a fail-safe in case you forget something and this is a really good one. Make it look seamless and natural.
5) Refresh the audience on your presentation’s purpose
Peter Young, a psychologist at UK Top Writers and UK Services Reviews, tells people that “if you’re having trouble remembering where you were, you can always return to your core message. Say something like ‘now we see why (your topic) is so important.’ It helps you re-frame your presentation and return to the overall topic”.
This is actually what you should do frequently even if you don’t forget your lines. It’s good to remind people why they are there and reinforce your message.
6) Don’t memorize your presentation
One of the main reason public speakers draw a blank during a presentation is because they’ve attempted to memorize the whole speech, and this is a big mistake. You should not be freezing because you’ve forgotten a line. Instead of memorizing your whole speech, you should learn your key messages back to front and inside out. Think about what you want to share with your audience and practice different ways of communicating that information. Leave memorization to theater plays and movies.
You need to understand your presentation. List the focus points on the slides and then fill the space between them. When you understand your topic properly, you can easily talk. Memorizing just creates more problems for you.
7) Don’t stop the eye contact
George Bay, a public speaking coach at Revieweal and Assignment Services share this tip with readers: “If you forget your next lines, be sure to maintain eye contact with your audience because it keeps your in the position of authority even if you don’t feel it. Focus on one or two people for a few seconds, and it will look like you are reinforcing a previous point.”
This is an important thing, even if you don’t forget your lines. Don’t fidget and look in some distant corner or all over the room except at the people. Look at the people and convey your points.
8) Don’t try to be perfect
You do not have to be perfect, the audience actually wants to see you as human and relatable. People won’t point and laugh if you make a mistake, so relax, and your next line should come to you naturally.
In essence, everyone knows what it’s like to be the person in front of an audience, trying to deliver some important information. You need to understand that. Everyone will understand if you get confused or lose a thought.
Just smile and try to move past that. Your audience is just as human as you are.
So, yes, going blank on an important presentation can be quite scary and confusing. It may even make you incapable of continuing after that. However, if you learn some techniques to fill that awkward silence and to move on with your presentation, you will have a much easier time. The point is to just keep talking and not show that you have forgotten your lines. Be confident and talk while you try to remember the next line. Stay confident and remember these strategies.