My top 7 tips to avoid blanking out on stage
Going blank in-front of an audience used to be a real fear of mine. In fact I was so worried about forgetting what I was going to say, that I actually manifested it to happen unknowingly, by focussing on it so much.
Even though I knew my stuff, one day I was faced with that awkward moment in the middle of a presentation, when I stopped mid-sentence, having lost my place. My heart was pumping, my mind was racing and thoughts were swirling around my head. I couldn’t think clearly or focus on what I wanted to say. Needless to say, it was a moment I never wanted to happen again.
So I went about identifying strategies that would eliminate this from reoccurring. Thankfully now this isn’t even something I give a second thought to. I can give a talk of over an hour (even with no slides) and remember every single bit and not have any of those awkward moments.
If this is something you’re also trying to deal with, here are my top 7 tips for how to remember your talk and avoid blanking out on stage.
1. Chunking information
If you have a simple structure which chunks your information into categories or key points, it’s much easier to remember than lots of discrete information. Our short-term memory is not like that of a computer and it’s why we remember our credit card number or people’s mobile phone numbers in chunks of 3 or 4 digits.
Contemporary scientists believe that chunks of 3s are easiest to remember, so chunk what you’re going to talk about into no more than three points. These 3 points can have 3 sub-points too though (if required) and this theory still applies.
2. Visual structure
If you map out the high-level structure of your talk in terms of the key points you’re making and in what order, you will be able to use this as an aid for remembering what comes next. It gives you a visual representation that your mind can picture and use to recall later. However, it must be on one piece of paper (it doesn’t matter how big the piece of paper is). If it crosses over multiple pieces of paper, it’s nowhere near as effective.
3. Telling stories
Stories are far more memorable than facts and figures alone. It may be in part because stories light up seven areas of the brain, as opposed to facts and figures which only light up two. Or it may be that generally a story has one common destination or point, with everything else hanging or flowing off that. So, use this to your advantage and include as many stories as you can, as they’re much easier for you to remember and hence much harder to forget!
4. Simple notes
When planning out your talk in more detail, do NOT be tempted to write it all out word for word. This will put unnecessary pressure on you, which is not going to be possible and will cause too much stress.
Having key points mapped out in your high-level structure will give you direction and focus but the flexibility to get those points across in many different ways and not contain you to an exact script which can easily be ‘forgotten’.
However, if you need to remember a few very specific things that must be said exactly right (e.g. specific terms, someone’s name, certain statistics etc), it may be helpful to write these out so you can reference them, if required.
If you don’t actually know your content well enough or if you don’t practice enough, you may be more inclined to forget what you’re saying up on stage. Practice at least 5-10 times, or more if required, so it flows well and you know how you will transition from different points and know what’s coming next.
We each have roughly 80,000 thoughts per day and they say where attention goes, energy flows. This is the case whether we want something to happen or we don’t want it to happen. Given how powerful our mind is, it’s important that we focus on what we do want instead. E.g. Don’t focus on ‘not wanting to forget what I’m saying’ and instead focus on ‘having absolute clarity in the moment and being calm and articulate’. Visualise this in as much detail as possible and you are much more likely for this to play out in real life.
If you’re particularly anxious about forgetting what you have to say, start a daily 5-minute meditation practice. Meditation has been proven to lower stress, to ease nerves or anxiety and to calm the mind. This will be hugely beneficial in calming you in the lead up to the talk and putting you in a good headspace. This will reduce the chance of you getting so worked up that your mind goes blank.
However, if after all of this, you DO actually forget what you’re saying, it is NOT the end of the world. You are human and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. If you can, laugh it off. If you do have notes, refer to them to catchup where you’re at, or simply move onto the next point.