Here’s how you can overcome a mental block while giving a presentation
It has to be a public speaker’s greatest fear. You’re in full flow while delivering your presentation, your slides are great, and the audience are fully engaged. Then, horror of horrors, you go blank. You stare out into the crowd and they start back… waiting for you to continue. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t recall the next part of your talk. The terror grows.
This kind of nightmare situation is exactly why many of us dread having to speak publicly. If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know the sense of panic going blank can cause, and how uncomfortable your audience can feel if they sense that you’re lost.
However, going blank during a presentation doesn’t have to be an inevitability, nor is it something that everyone has to experience once. There are lots of things you can do to prevent a mental block taking hold, so relax and read on.
1, Memorise your message, not your speech
Ask an actor how they manage to remember all their lines, and they’ll tell you that they learn the character first. Placing emphasis on this idea of a ‘bigger picture’ applies to presentations, too. So instead of knowing the character, know your presentation, inside and out.
Learning your speech word for word might seem like the safest way to approach an important presentation, but it really isn't. Most mental blocks we’ve seen have been a result of the presenter stumbling over their obviously memorised words. One slip up, one misremembered line, or one break in their tight, inflexible flow, and they go blank. Enter the panic.
Therefore make sure you learn the structure of your presentation first. Remember the flow of your talk and the main points that need to be covered. Instead of a word-for-word script writing session, jot down these main points and memorise their order.
2, Rehearse. Outside
It goes without saying that rehearsing your presentation is the best way to get it firmly planted within your memory. However, there is a huge difference between running it over in your head in your office, and standing up to perform it in front of an audience. So go outside.
Take a walk. While you walk, rehearse. You might get some odd looks, but walking around town while reciting your talk is a great way to prepare for the day, and a solid way to prevent going blank during your presentation. Unlike the safe and predictable space of your office, the outside world is chaotic and surprising, with loud noises and random people.
The aim is to embrace those distractions and battle against them, teaching yourself to be able to say your words in any situation. Do this a few times, in different places and at different times of the day (2am in the rain, anyone?). The place in which you actually deliver the presentation will then seem far more controlled and predictable, helping you to overcome going blank.
3, Structure notes as backup
A presentation delivered without note-reading has a special kind of energy. Presenters who keep having to refer to their laptop screen will never command the interest and engagement of those who don’t need to. If the audience is the only focus of the presenter, so the audience will focus on the presenter.
That shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve taken our advice in point one and you know your presentation back to front. If you’re passionate about your topic (why would you be delivering a presentation about it if you aren’t?) the good stuff will flow and going blank will be impossible.
But here’s your safety net. By using PowerPoint’s handy speaker notes function, you can leave some words beneath each slide in your presentation that only you will be able to see. Although glancing to a screen will lessen your audience’s engagement, it might act as a confidence boost knowing that you have notes on your presentation structure available to you. And that boost to your confidence will help with the next point.
A relaxed presenter is a confident, effective presenter. The degree to which you can relax prior to public speaking will change as your experience grows, but even novice presenters can help themselves get the best start and avoid going blank.
Keeping a level head during the build-up to delivering a presentation is a long-term project. Fortunately it is one that your body will thank you for. We went into greater detail about this right here, but eating healthily, getting plenty of sleep, and reducing your caffeine and sugar intake is beneficial to keeping you calm under pressure.
Another calming tactic is to remind yourself that your audience has no idea what you’re about to say. All they’ll know for sure is that they are about to see a presentation about a particular topic. What form that presentation will take, and how it will be delivered, will be a complete mystery to them.
With that in mind, how can going blank during the presentation still stress you out? You might suddenly lose you place, but as long as you don’t panic and start crying, your audience won’t be aware.
So take a moment to breathe and think. It will come back. And if it doesn’t, subtly check your speaker notes. The important thing is to remember that going blank during a presentation is not the end of the presentation... or your career.
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