18 Tips To Overcome A Blackout In A Speech Or Presentation

Here is what to do when you have a blackout in front of an audience
Blackout bei der Rede überwinden

Overcome a blackout

Black out in a speech or presentation, so what? A brief blackout during a speech is often hardly noticeable. Learn how to overcome it!​

A blackout during a speech or presentation?


Palms sweaty and the heart is racing. If stage fright increases over a certain level, a blackout can occur. These are moments in which the head seems to be swept empty, but this does not mean a tidy state – on the contrary! 

Black out in a speech or presentation, so what? A brief blackout during a speech is often hardly noticeable and after a good speech, the audience usually cannot remember such an incident. And it is a good occasion for speakers to show how they handle such a situation. Forgetting what you planned to say? For a surprising number of people, the moment of truth comes right at the start of their speech. Looking out at the audience, they suddenly go blank.

Typical situations are exams, speeches, and presentations in front of an audience or camera. In spite of well-founded preparation, what has been learned can then no longer be achieved. In spite of all the effort – and often precisely because of this – what was previously possible in a relaxed manner slips away. Especially the desperate effort to get it under control leads to intensive stress reactions. “What else did I want to say? Just don’t forget anything, make everything perfect. What happens next? What was my thread?” Oh, gone is the thought, crap, it happened; a blackout!




Causes of a blackout


Imagine that: You have already given half of your presentation and are increasingly confident because your audience reacts positively. Suddenly, however, your mind becomes empty and everything you have to say disappears behind a dark cloud. And then you turn towards your audience and think, “What did I want to say again?”.

There are many reasons why a speaker can lose his focus, such as stage fright, fatigue, distractions by private topics or by an interjection from the audience. It may come from nerves, lack of focus, or even over-preparing. All of this can cause a lot of stress and it does not make us better speakers. The phenomenon of going blank isn’t limited to people with full-blown speech anxiety.

Serious blackouts are comparatively rare. The worst is the fear of a blackout. It does the most damage because it prevents speakers from showing what they can do.

The most common reason for a blackout is to increase the fear of it. The typical internal dialog is not helpful. “Do not go blank, just do not fail, …” horror scenes dominate the lead. To go on stage with such a burden is generally the least favorable condition for a good speech. If this happens, the following tips will help you to deal with the situation and make you look great as a speaker.

Learn how to overcome it!​




18 tips to overcome a blackout in a speech


A blackout is like a kind of blockage in the brain. This blockade can be overcome in several ways:



1. Repeat the last sentence


Repeat the last line you just said. This gives you time to relax and the repetition may bring your memory in motion again. Repeating a sentence or a core message that has already been said seems like reminding the audience of something. At the same time, it helps to regain confidence and to continue by finding a starting point. This makes it easier to get back on track. Repeating the last sentence often helps to tie in with the last thought when we are off track.




2. Look at the keyword card


If you have prepared index cards with the most important keywords, it should be enough to look at them and you’re ready to go. The desperately looking look at a stack of notes, on the other hand, appears less competent.




3. Ask the audience


Let’s see if the audience has listened; “Where have we been at the moment?”, “Who can summarize the past?”, “What has arrived so far?”. There should be enough witnesses available.

Get the audience involved. Have them pair up to discuss an important point or to do an activity.




4. Pause: Time for a break


Take a tiny break. The pause may give you the time to remember. When your brain, has time to relax, your words will come back to you. A silent moment is usually welcomed by the audience and interpreted as a concentration of the speaker. That works if it is done well. Maintain eye contact with a single person who you like and that supports you. Looking at such a person can be calming.

Give yourself a moment. During this time you can decide how to continue. If you remember what comes next, look into the audience and continue as if nothing had happened. In this way, the blackout is perceived as a staged break.

And if a longer break is announced anyway, take advantage of the moment.




5. Change of location


Get out of the fright. Are you not able to think of anything anymore? Then go to another place in the room. Even the change of location can help to let go of mental blockage. Also, mental and physical flexibility are related. With a little exercise, thoughts often get going again. Any reason for some movement can be found, right?




6. Short distraction


Open the window, drink a glass of water, check your notes… You will show that you are in control and not rushed. Ommmmm! And then continue. Where were we right now? Ah yes …




7. Summarize


Summarize what has been said so far. Then remember what’s coming next, and it helps the audience to find their bearings and depths.




8. Humor


Smile and take it self-ironically, if you do not know how to move on. Humor is the best medicine. Take this as an opportunity to demonstrate your sovereignty as a speaker by continuing to entertain the audience. Impromptu speakers appreciate such opportunities and thrive on them.




9. Repeat core messages


When preparing your speech, formulate the most important key messages of the speech. Then you can repeat them over and over again to gain time for reflection while the audience picks up the core messages. You may have to speak impromptu, but at least you know where your destination is.




10. Keep going where you want


What you originally wanted to say is just not tangible? So what? Just say what you want. It is your stage. Start where you think it is interesting.

And even if you make a mistake, so what? As the presenter, you have a serious competitive advantage: Nobody besides you knows what is supposed to happen. That insight alone can calm you down.

If you use PowerPoint and Co., I hope for you that you know how to skillfully come to the appropriate page you are looking for.




11. Exercise


Send the participants in an exercise. And if you can think of no better one; let the participants share their personal experiences with the topic with their neighbors.




12. Be yourself


Where else is there such a thing: Hooray, the speaker is a person, how likable! Deal openly with dropouts. Present yourself upright, show how you deal with yourself. That tells a lot about you and your character, your personality.




13. Emergency element


You could prepare yourself for such a moment. Have a short, relevant anecdote or a backup activity. Use visual aids, take showpieces such as brochures, products or something else. Choose something that your audience is interested in. And yes, that may have something to do with humor. There should even be speakers waiting for such moments.

Then, if you still can’t remember, you can ask something like, “Now, where was I?” at the end of the story or activity.




14. Enjoy feeling energized


Just accept the fact that you will feel those butterflies in your stomach. That this is part of the deal for most people in front of an audience.




15. Positive conditioning


Those who, for example, have learned the appropriate techniques in mental training or who seek professional help can activate beneficial mental states. These are installed in advance and intensified in such a way that they improve the condition as if at the push of a button.




16. Shut up and smile!


Take your time and smile while regaining mental balance. Smile in such a situation as if you have a secret and just look at the audience for a while. Try it and you will look very confident and the audience will be anticipating your next phrase almost as much as you are.

Most of us know moments when we forget what we want to say when the thought that we grasped a second ago just slips away. You may recover it again the next second, or it might be gone for good. It doesn’t matter. Your speech or presentation probably won’t be diminished in the least because of that moment. Why? First, your audience has no idea what you intended to say. And even more important: whatever you do say will be appropriate in the context of your talk.




17. Remember your story, not your script.


This way you’ll never blackout again.




18. Prevention: danger detected – danger averted


The best ways to protect you against blackouts are rhetorical exercises and good preparation of the speech. If you do not know what you are talking about, you have every right to be nervous and maybe you shouldn’t even present, to begin with.

In case of very intense stage fright, the tips on this page can at least reduce the pressure somewhat. Ask me personally to help you.

Poll results


A blackout in front of an audience…


… I have not experienced it but I am afraid of it


… I have already experienced.


… is not an issue for me.

The result of a non-representative survey on www.karstennoack.de (2017, n= 322)

Help with stage fright


If you want to be successful, then you have to talk and present effectively, convince and fight for your ideas. Unfortunately, so many people keep silent because they suffer from immense stage fright. Stage fright can be a positive kind of excitement but sometimes the fear can be really intense and as the result too many people keep silent! This is sad, especially if someone has something valuable to say.

Does stage fright or performance anxiety block and frustrate your ambitions? Eliminating your fear of public speaking is possible.

Since 1998 I have been helping people to present themselves and their messages convincingly. During this time I have also helped many speakers with intense stage fright. Because it is sometimes more than just stage fright, I also have a therapeutic approval. While working with me – because you want to enjoy your performances in front of your audience – you are in good hands.

You can best estimate for yourself where the effort is worthwhile in relation to the expected benefit. Here you will find the fees for my support.

In case you are not in Berlin right now, choose meetings with me via telephone or video support. Whereby there are quite good reasons for a trip to Berlin.

Benefit from my experience in marketing, psychology, and communication. Find out more about me in my profile.

Just ask me personally

Let's get into a conversation. I'd love to hear from you. Please post any questions that may interest other readers in the comments. If you are interested in coaching or training, for personal questions about that and appointments you can reach me by e-mail (mail@karstennoack.com), phone +49(0)30 864 213 68 and mobile phone +49(0)1577 704 53 56. You can also use this contact form. Please read the information about the privacy policy.

Karsten Noack

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What experiences do you have with the phenomenon of a blackout? Do you know other techniques to deal with a blackout?

1 Comment

  1. Stage fright sucks so much.


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This article is a short excerpt from the more comprehensive course materials my clients receive in a group or individual training or coaching.

Published: March 21, 2011
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: February 4, 2020
Translation: ./.
German version: https://www.karstennoack.de/blackout-rede-ueberwinden-faden-verloren-berlin/