16 Tips to Overcome a Blackout in a Speech or PresentationHere is what to do when you have a blackout in front of an audience
Overcome a blackout
Going blank in a speech or presentation, having a Blackout, so what? A brief blackout during a speech is not really tragic. Find out what you can do for yourself. Have fun! Learn how to overcome it!
Palms sweaty and the heart is racing. 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.
Forgetting what you planed to say? 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.
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.
The most common reason for a blackout is to increase the fear of it. The typical internal dialog is not really 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.
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. Skillfully 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 show that you are in control and not rushed. Ommmmm! And than continue. Where were we right now? Ah yes …
Summarize what has been said so far. Then remember what’s coming next, and it helps the audience to find their bearings and depths.
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.
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. Hurrah, 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.
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.
16. Remember your story, not your script.
This way you’ll never black out again.
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.
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.
… 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)
First published: March 21, 2011
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: April 19, 2019
Translation: April 23, 2013
German version: https://www.karstennoack.de/blackout-rede-ueberwinden-faden-verloren-berlin/