Blank Mind and Public Speaking:
What to do when you forget your speech?

A blank mind is a terrible thing to have, especially when you are presenting a speech, and in particular during... a speech contest. It happened to me. I had rehearsed this speech three times a day for about two months. I knew it inside out and I felt only moderately nervous since it was not my first contest. Actually, I felt comfortable enough not to have notes with me.

After I uttered the first two sentences, a white cloud fell over me and I had the feeling voices were screaming in my ears. I couldn’t remember anything. Blank mind, nothing happening up there! It lasted two hours. Of course next morning I could recite the whole thing without hesitation!

Wanting to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, I thoroughly researched the topic and found a few guidelines that may help you if you speak without notes.

Additional Resources

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Blank Mind Emergency Tips

· In case of a sudden blank mind, you can pause and go back to the previous point, and this should unlock your memory. In my case, it wouldn’t have helped considering that it took my memory two hours to unlock. But since most memory blanks are only temporary, this technique may help you.

· In an issue of the Toastmaster Magazine, Kai Rambow advises: “If you happen to forget your speech, ask the audience.” The participants are hopefully listening to you and will point you in the right direction.

· In Secrets of Successful Speakers, Lilly Walters suggests: “Find something you do remember and just start talking about it.” Of course, you have to make sure that what you do remember is related to your talk.

· If worse comes to worse, the whole written speech laid out on the lectern or tucked in your pocket (make sure you wear clothes with pockets when you speak, it is always handy!)

Cue Cards Basics

You can always rely on cue cards, those little easy-to-hide rescuers.

· While making the transition to the cards, you may use one-liners such as “I left my brain at home. Anyone has a spare one?” or “They say ignorance is bliss, and right now, I’m ecstatic!” Since there is no guarantee you can remember a one-liner during a blank mind episode, copy it on a cue card and hide it in your emergency pocket.

· The way to prepare those cards also impacts the smoothness of your delivery during a blank mind gap. It is better to write your pointers in “thought lines.” What is a thought line, you ask?

A thought line is a short line
that you can read all at once,
so you can pace your delivery.
If you are reading slowly enough
your eyes will be ahead of your voice.

· If you are showing slides, you won’t experience the blank mind syndrome because your slides will act as cue cards.

Public Speaking - Blank Mind - Speeches

Public Speaking - Blank Mind - Speeches

Why did your Mind go Blank?

Now a big question: why would you forget your speech in the first place?

·It could be because you are not well prepared. If you are going to speak to a group, be prepared and make sure you have rehearsed your talk a few times beforehand. “Practice, practice, practice” should be the motto of anyone doing public speaking, either occasionally or for a living.

· Maybe you are not focused enough. You are thinking of something else. You need to center yourself. A bit of meditation could help in this case. Read my Meditation tips.

· You could be overwhelmed by too many things at once. My article “How to deal with stress at work” could prove useful!

· In my case, I was NOT convinced of what I was saying. In a way, I was lying to myself, and my subconscious mind stopped me. You can read the article I wrote about this experience, entitled Are you walking your talk?, which was published in the Toastmaster Magazine in November, 2006.

Whatever the problem is, it always gives a good lesson and an opportunity to become stronger because, as Confucius says, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

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