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8 Tips for When You Go Blank:
What Do You Do When You Freeze, Go Blank or Can't Remember What to Say Next When You Are Speaking?

Written by Patti Wood

You go blank.  You're thinking, "Oh my gosh, the audience will know I messed up!" -- "What can I do?" plenty, first remember they don't know what you planned to say next.  They may not even know you've messed up.  You actually have the freedom to do anything you darn well want to in this moment.  You are in control so you can use the following 8 tips to look cool.

One - Look at your notes - Say, "This is so important, let me read it straight from my notes" or "I want to say this precisely. so let me read it to you." Or "Let me quote this directly to you." Say it calmly and serenely and then refer to your notes. Try not to pick up the notes, or a least don't continue to hold them if you do. If you have followed the rules for notes in my Easy Speaking book you should just be able to merely glance at them.

Two - Walk over to the pre-set flip chart - (You know the one you will always have your main points on) and say, "Let’s see where this fits into our main points. This gives you time to think of what you want to say and if you put pencil notes on your chart or notes on the back of your flip chart pages, it gives you a chance to look at your cheat notes. Sometimes merely looking at the main points in sequence will wake up your Serial memory. (Your serial memory stores things in your brain in the order you learned it.) And you can go on.

Three - Say "Let me repeat that" and repeat what you just said - Usually, once you repeat and go back down that neural pathway, the little skip will be smoothed out and you will remember what you wanted to say next. Any gap or silence can easily be filled with repetition. And guess what? It is ok to repeat it more that once! Repetition also works as a transition from one power point slide to the next. I love repetition in a speech. It reinforces your ideas. And you know that sometimes the audience was in the twilight zone the first time you said it, so it's also a great fire cracker to wake them up. If you still don't remember what you intended to say after you repeat it, just elaborate on the point you just repeated.

Four - Go to the next thing you DO remember - I don't care if you skip a whole point, just go to what your brain recalls. If you need a little phrase say,"Let me skip to"or when you do remember or if what you remember is your previous point merely say, "Let's go back to " or " now."

Five - Take a drink of water - I mean it. Have a glass of water without ice up at the front of the room and take a long sip while you think of something to say. George Carlin did this so much in his comedy shows that he developed a whole segment on the different ways to drink water with all sorts of funny sounds. Get his recording; it's hilarious and it will remind you that the audience does not care if you use a funny way to get through the pause. They just want it to be comfortable for you and for them. Two little tricks to making this work well. One: The best form of water is actually a small bottled water. It is less likely to spill or tip over on the podium or front table and will not spill all over you if you grab it wrong or gulp it. Two: As you go for the water or as you're drinking, make eye contact with the audience and hold up your hand in the "stop" palm out gesture. That signals the audience you are pausing for a drink. It looks like you're sooo hot, you cool speaker you, that you need to take a drink. I love how that move looks.

Six - Share an amusing story or anecdote - When you watch a TV talk show notice how the good speakers have a little amusing story to tell when the interview is dry or slow. For example, Tom Hanks and Hugh Grant will fill up the dead air time by telling a story about something funny that happened on their last movie. You can fill that dead air time too. Maybe your little tyke did something cute you can relate to the speech or perhaps you had something funny happen with a customer last week. Segue into it by saying something as smooth as, "A funny thing happened…" or,"Let me tell you a story about…"  Yes, you may be getting off the point, but it's better than standing there with nothing to say. You’re using this technique to make you feel comfortable enough to continue and make the audience think nothing is amiss. Of course you want to relate the story back to your topic. This is a speech. Now, you may be thinking how do I come up with a story out of thin air. Well you don't. You have a few good stories prepared. Ideally when something funny happens, write a few anecdote ideas on your Bat man utility belt note cards. If you have not read the section in my Easy Speaking book on the Batman utility belt note cards, these are the little florescent cards you write your IN CASE OF EMERGENCY notes on. Not sure how to come up with a story, go to the “How to Create a Story” chapter in my Easy Speaking book for step-by-step instructions. (Shameless promoting of book, but good stuff for you.)

Seven - Ask for questions - Simply say, "Before I go on, what questions do you have about what I covered so far?" Warning; you might not get any questions. If you have that concern instead say. "Turn to the person sitting next to you and come up with a question about what we have covered so far." Simple. Now if you hate questions and they rattle you, do not use this technique, but if you’re a speaker that actually thrives on questions and prefers that to stuffy power point presentations, go for it.

Eight - Put them in an exercise - If you’re really freaked and panting for air, this will save the day. Just have the audience turn to a partner or get them in little groups and have them do something. "Turn to a partner and come up with a list of ways you can apply this new technique back at work" or "Get into groups of three and share a time when the old product did not work." or "Turn to a partner and share what you have learned so far." For more details on how to put groups in an exercise and sample exercises go to the "Get Them Involved with an Exercise" chapter. So, here are just eight little techniques you can begin putting to use now in your presentations. If you think of others that have worked for you, please send them to me and I’ll share in upcoming newsletters.