What if I forget what to say during my speech?

WRITTEN October 10, 2019 Author: Jen Glantz

At the end of a Presentation Skills class I instructed last week, Wrapping up, I asked the audience if there were any final questions.

One attendee raised his hand and said, “What do I do if I forget what to say while I’m up in front of the room?”

Before I could respond, three more people joined in.

“Yeah! Me too.”

“Ugh, that’s my fear!”

“It happened to me once!”

Forgetting what you’re going to say is one of the biggest fears for any speaker. It’s something that, most likely, will happen to us all at least once.

While the anticipation of that moment can feel scary and laced with anxiety, it’s something we can prepare for and recover from.

Here are four tips to help you continue on when your mind goes blank in the middle of a presentation:

The audience does not have your script in front of them. They don’t know what you are supposed to say next. Think about your overall topic first. Remember the main point you just spoke about. Then, talk about any knowledge you have on the topic. This will remind you of the structure of your presentation and perhaps trigger what you wanted to say next.
It is natural to pause. Look at your presentation slides. Look down at your notes. Use  those few seconds to recall your practice sessions. Try to remember a word, sentence, or example to speak about until you can get back on track.
Engage the Audience
Use your audience. Ask them if they have any questions so far or examples they would like to share. Buy yourself some time to recover. Take a deep breath and continue on with your speech as planned.
Practice Without Memorizing
Your memory can fail you when under pressure. Instead of memorizing every word of your speech, focus on the main points instead. Practice your speech out loud without any notes in your hand. Do this again and again until you are familiar and comfortable with the overall flow. That way, in front of the audience, you feel confident speaking about the main topics without the stress of recalling specific words.

If you forget what to say during a speech, relax. Recover with pauses, improvisation, and questions for the audience. The bottom line is, your audience doesn’t have your script in their hands. They are just along for the ride.

This information is from the Improving Communications Public Speaking training class. If you’re looking for ways to improve your overall communication skills, register for one of our upcoming public classes in NYC.

Other Resources:

Psychology of Everyday Life: Why do I tend to forget words while speaking?

Forgetting the words (YouTube Video)

How to Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know”

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