Imagine this scenario:
You’re doing a high-stakes presentation. So far, it’s well-received. As you move from slide to slide, your listeners are on the edge of their seats, waiting for your next words. Then suddenly, your mind goes blank. You forget what to say next.
You feel like there’s no way you can recover from this memory lapse. You might need to end your presentation prematurely and on a low note.
Mind-blanking is every public speaker’s worst nightmare, but it can happen to any of us. It occurs when our body triggers our evolutionary flight-or-fight response. As a result, a part of our brain—the pre-frontal lobe—that organizes memory shuts down, making it hard to access memories.
Some of the causes of a memory lapse include the following:
- Anxiety-triggering activities — Talking in front of people, such as public speaking or presiding over a meeting, is a common stress-prompting activity that causes our brains to go blank. Moreover, being nervous when doing a presentation can affect the way we deliver our message and engage our audience.
- Medication — Taking medications before your presentation can result in temporary brain fog and reduced reaction time.
- Lack of sleep — Our brains can’t function properly without a healthy night’s sleep. Studies show that people with sleep deprivation experience mind-blanking, mind-wandering, and sluggish response time.
Since even the most prepared speakers can still lose their train of thought or draw a complete blank during a presentation, we’ve created a list of ways to recover from a memory lapse like a pro.
Talk about anything to break the silence
A few seconds to several minutes of silence during a presentation suggests that we have forgotten what to say next. And when we forget our talking points, fear can take over us. Out of fear, we panic and freeze up, worsening our situation.
Don’t let fear debilitate you. When you stay silent, your anxiety won’t pass; It will continue to grow. Talk to your listeners about anything related to your topic just to break the silence.
Ask questions to provoke critical thinking
You can buy time to recall your next talking point by asking your audience questions.
Ask rhetorical questions that would cause them to introspect or thought-provoking questions that require answers. As you gather your thoughts, let your audience think. Make sure the question is about your previous talking point to avoid breaking your flow and straying from your topic.
Asking questions engage your audience and establish yourself as a figure of authority.
Lock eyes with members of the audience
As you gather your thoughts, maintain eye contact with your audience. Even when you forget your lines, looking directly at your audience helps keep your position of authority. You would look like you’re reinforcing your statements, letting them sink in.
Focus on a few people for a few seconds as you recall your next point. Don’t fidget, scan the room aimlessly, or look at a distant corner, as doing so would make you look nervous.
Summarize your previous talking point
When you can’t remember what to say next, take the time to summarize your previous point. Reiterate or paraphrase key ideas. Let your audience figure out that you’re summarizing and emphasizing your talking points.
Summarizing your previous point can help you remember the direction you were heading. It also seems as if you’re building toward a new point.
To stay hydrated during presentations, speakers need to drink.
Drinking is also a subtle way to recall what you need to say next when you’ve gone blank.
While drinking, take the time to recall your talking points. Since your listeners can’t hold your thirst against you—they won’t mind you drinking—this opportunity is a great way to recollect your thoughts.
Refer to your notes
A wise speaker keeps his notes handy.
You can conduct your talk without referring to your notes. However, when the need arises, they prove to be beneficial. Thus, when presenting, you should always have your notes accessible.
Create an outline of the segments of your talk; write all the main points under each one. Don’t write everything. Doing so could confuse you and cause more problems when you are looking for specific information.
Interpret your presentation slides
If you’re the one who prepared your presentation deck, it’s easier to interpret all the information it has to remember what to say next.
If you didn’t prepare the slides, it’s crucial that you comprehensively review each one before your presentation. Know your deck inside out. Moreover, ensure that the flow of the presentation is according to your style.
Knowing your presentation deck through and through can help you interpret all of its elements and discern the parts of your talk.
Acknowledge the situation
When you’ve exhausted all means to remember what you need to say after a memory lapse but still failed, the most reasonable response is to be honest with your audience. Acknowledge the situation and apologize for it. Admit what happened and move forward.
Regain your confidence knowing that your audience is on your side and wants to learn from you; therefore, continue your presentation with a renewed spirit and assurance that your audience wants you to succeed. Make sure to end your talk with a high-impact core message and actionable steps to apply what they’ve learned.
Why you should not memorize your presentation
Some speakers resort to memorizing their speeches to reduce anxiety. They craft their scripts and plan sequences meticulously. While memorizing your presentation might be the most logical-sounding technique to deliver your talk, it has its downsides, including being susceptible to a memory lapse.
When you memorize your script, you set one way to communicate your message. If you stray from your script, your brain will identify it as an error, resulting in panic, haywire thoughts, or memory lapse.
Memorizing also disconnects you from your audience, making your presentation sound rehearsed. It also reduces your bandwidth to adjust to and accommodate the needs of your audience. Keep in mind that the goal of your presentation is to be engaging and to influence your audience to take action.
Remember the scenario above?
Now that you know how to recover from a memory lapse during a presentation, you no longer have to end your talk abruptly. Apply the ways above and finish your presentation with flying colors.