How to avoid a brain freeze when speaking

In your presentation, you don’t want to be staring at a script, but winging it doesn’t work, either. Here’s how to walk that tightrope with full confidence.

It’s happened to all of us at least once. You’re prepared, and you’re nervous.

All of a sudden, your mind goes blank. Brain freeze.

One common complaint is, “If I knew my material better, this wouldn’t have happened.”

We freeze because we get in our own way. We put too much stress on ourselves, and sometimes, we can’t help it. So, what do we do about it?

We have a few things to recommend:

  • Start with a story you know. The power of sharing something personal that ties to your point will help everyone who struggles with brain freeze. Typically, the first few minutes of any speech or presentation are the most nerve-racking. So, open with a story you know well. It could be about how you got to the office that day, a favorite memory, perhaps a tried-and-true story or joke that relates to your main point. Once you dive in, be proud of your momentum. You will be more apt to stay on track.
  • Prep with trigger words. Have well-organized notes or Post-Its with trigger words that enable you to glance down, pick up your next point and then speak to it. Because many of us respond to visual cues, using notes and trigger words is especially helpful.
  • Breathe. It’s not just for spin class or yoga class; you also need to breathe when you are in front of a group of people. It’s a good chance to pause, collect your thoughts and quiet your nerves.
  • Get on video beforehand. The repetition of practicing on video-and self-monitoring-can ease anxiety. Try practicing in a space that is as close as possible to the environment in which you will present. That way, you can adjust to the noise, light and other stimulations or distractions.
  • Engage in eye communication. Eye contact can be difficult, but it is vitally important for your audience. Look for people who are smiling and nodding. Use their encouragement to glance at your notes, and then pick right back up again.

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A version of this article first appeared on Decker Communications.

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