Clear Comm Consulting

Battling the Blank-Out — Remembering What You Are Going to Say

Mar 30, 2009

I gave the speech at my grade eighth graduation. I don’t remember it like it was yesterday because I’ve been trying to forget it since it happened! There I was in my new red shirt and white tie, delivering a speech I had down cold. Except for the part I forgot. I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about. I was so confident I didn’t take any notes up with me and, part way through, I just went blank. Frankly it’s surprising I do what I do for a living after going through that very long afternoon in my elementary school gym. Boy it got quiet with everyone staring at me!

Most of us have had some version of what I just described. It’s almost like you lose oxygen for a moment. Nothing goes through your head. It’s just a blank sheet. Well, instead of drudging up all those bad memories, let’s just take the next few minutes focusing on how it will never happen to any of us again!

The Team Approach: If you’re a person who has had several of these experiences try to work in teams on presentations. Have the team “always on” (see last month’s Monthly Memo) so each person can pick up for the other if someone drops the ball. Usually we just need a minute to gather our thoughts on a blank-out, so other team members should be ready to say, “As Bob was saying, the important thing here is …,” or “Maggie makes an excellent point there….” The audience probably won’t notice and you’ll have time to gather your thoughts, take back the ball and continue with the presentation.

Using Limited Notes: I never suggest people have a full script of their speech with them while they are in front of the audience — it’s just too distracting, too hard to find a specific point or just too easy to end up reading the thing word-for-word. If you read it why are you there? They could have gotten the speech in their e-mail and saved themselves the trip! I do however suggest most people use “limited notes.” Whether it’s an outline or simple talking points, it provides some comfort to the speaker and a place to go if you blank. Often a strong speaker will take notes up and rarely if ever refer to them. You should know your material so well you don’t need to look down — points should flow one to another and you should play off the look and feel of the audience.

Be Serious About Practice: Most of us don’t take full advantage of practice time — and you may remember hearing this from me before. Just running through your thoughts before you get up to speak is not REAL PRACTICE. If this is an important presentation set aside real practice time where you go through it word for word, standing up in a similar size room if possible. What’s the difference between most basic, boring presentations and very good, memorable opportunities that grow the careers of the people in front of the audience? The answer is real practice.

So much time is spent these days fretting over the economy. Perhaps we should spend less time fretting and more time making the most of the opportunities we have. You don’t want to look back on some lost opportunities that could have been made much better with some serious practice.

Finally, remember that goofy eighth grader standing silently in front of a gym full of people and determine right now that won’t be you!

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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