16 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






A blackout during a speech or presentation?


Did you lose the thread? So what? Basically, a brief blackout during a speech is not really tragic. 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.

Worst of all is the fear of a blackout. It does the most damage because it prevents speakers from showing what they can do.




Causes of a blackout


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. All of this can cause a lot of stress and it does not make us better speakers.

The safest way into the blackout is over the fear of it. Do not lose the thread, just do not fail, … horror scenes dominate the lead. To go on stage so burdened is generally the least favorable condition for a good speech. If this happens, the following tips will help you not only save the situation, but also make you look great as a speaker.




16 tips to overcome a blackout in a speech




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. Skilfully re-threaded.




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 supports you. Looking at such 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 a mental blockage. In addition, 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 look in control and not rushed. Ommmmm! And than 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 really 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


People will like you, even more, when they see that you aren’t perfect, just like them. Hurray, the speaker is a human being, how sympathetic! Openly deal with dropouts.




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. Shut up and smile!


Take your time and smile while regaining mental balance. So speaker smile in such a situation as if they 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.




16. Remember your story, not your script.


This way you’ll never black out again.




Prevention: danger detected – danger averted


The best ways to protect you against blackout are rhetorical exercises and a 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.

If it is about very intense stage fright, then the tips on this page can at least reduce the pressure somewhat. If it is a case of public speaking nervousness, there is help available.

Just ask me personally


Let's get into a conversation. 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.


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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)



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


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Initial release: 22.5.2018
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: 30.12.2018