You’re delivering an important work presentation or a speech at a social occasion. You’re a big hit with the audience. Then, the unthinkable happens. You lose your train of thought. Has that ever happened to you?
You’re not alone,so don’t be too down on yourself. Choking happens to almost everyone from time to time – from prime ministers to sports people and those in the entertainment industry.
While performing in Central Park in New York in 1967, Barbara Streisand had an attack of the jitters, forgetting the words to several songs. She did not perform in public again for 27 years. Still battling her fears on her comeback concert in Madison Square Gardens she chose to use teleprompters to ensure she did not forget the lines to her songs. Older and wiser, Barbara Streisand later commented: “Performing is not about perfection”.
Choking or brain freeze is triggered when we get so anxious that we seize conscious control over a task that should be executed automatically.
The good news is that you can triumph over brain freeze. Here are some top tips for getting the most from your presentations and speeches and nailing brain freeze once and for all:
1. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t memorise every word of your presentation – just the beginning and the end. Know your three key points. Use personal stories or anecdotes, which will be easier to remember. Have notecards with key phrases nearby just in case.
2. Sleep: Get good quality sleep and avoid over rehearsing. Listen to your body – without proper rest the mind-body system falters and eventually shuts down.
3. Eat well: Cut out take-aways and heavy carbohydrates. Eat oily fish and fresh vegetables. Cut down on coffee and tea. Replace with herbal teas and drink two to three litres of water per day.
4. Exercise: Do at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise each day to alleviate tension. You can also use the time to mentally rehearse your presentation or come up with new ideas.
5. Focus and be in the moment: Pre-presentation, clear the mind of irrelevant thoughts, distractions and tensions. Try this exercise: Focus on an object, let everything else blur into the background and let all external sounds become inaudible. Think ‘focus, relax, smooth’ to keep your mind on target.
6. Confront your worst case scenarios: Write down the worst things that could happen e.g. you lose your place. Then write down how you could handle this scenario if it happens, e.g. you pause, take a sip of water to give you time to think of what you were saying, or you could ask the audience what you last said or have an emergency line ready like “If someone wants to jump in right here, it’s okay with me” or “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most”.
7. Meditation: Practicing meditation for at least 15 minutes per day will enhance your concentration and reduce your stress levels. Start off with just five minutes, and concentrate on your in and out breaths. If you get distracted by external sounds or thoughts, just re-focus on your breathing.
8. Visualization: Visualise any feared obstacle e.g. shaking, dry mouth, forgetting your words, and then visualise yourself triumphing over these and delivering a fantastic presentation to an appreciative audience.
9. Breathing: Breathe deeply from your diaphragm to relax you and lower tension. Try this exercise: Breathe through your nose and feel your stomach rising as your inhale, and falling as you exhale. Ensure your inhalations and exhalations last the same amount of time. You can practice this technique, before you are called to speak.
10. Keep Going: If you go blank, don’t end your presentation and sit down. Take it from me, this will trap you in a never ending cycle of defeat, and you will torment yourself before and during each subsequent presentation. Take some seconds out, pause, smile and keep going. The audience don’t have a copy of your presentation and won’t know you’ve left something out.
Most importantly of all, enjoy your presentation or speech. Before you start, take a moment and smile at your audience. Think of it as your handshake with them. Be energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy what you are doing. If you’re enjoying the presentation, the audience will too.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Find your local club here.