Public Speaking – What Do You Do When Your Mind Goes Blank?

(Quick note: I will continue my series about five animals that teach us to trust God next week.)

In public speaking classes, you are normally required to memorize your speech. While memorizing is fairly simple, the hardest part is staying memorized. Nerves often cause our minds to become muddled. What if you are standing on stage, and your mind goes completely blank? What do you do then?

My piano recital experiences have thoroughly acquainted me with the blank mind phenomenon. My mind went completely blank during all three of my high school piano recitals.  Here are five lessons I learned about what to do when you suddenly forget your speech.


  • A pause that feels huge to you is barely noticed by the audience.

When you are struggling to regain your momentum, seconds feel like glaciers. However, seconds feel like seconds to the audience. The audience members are not anxiously stamping their feet, demanding that you get back on track instantaneously. They are cheering you on. Everyone has experienced their mind going completely blank during inconvenient times, thus your audience can sympathize with you.


  • Humor can quickly lighten up an intense situation.

At one piano recital, I sat down on the piano bench, stared at the keys, and completely forgot how to start my song. I had been playing the song for months and had been memorized for weeks. I could even play it with my eyes closed. However, in the heat of the moment, my mind went blank. Rather than panic, I deflated the situation. As I walked back to my seat to retrieve my music, I said to the audience, “I promise you I had my piece memorized this morning!” Polite, quiet laughter followed my comment. Because I defused both my own tension and the tension in the room, the rest of my performance continued with no further mishaps. Rather than panic, choose to see the humor in your mistakes. Seeing the humor will allow you to move forward with fewer mishaps.


  • Stop speeding!

People tend to speak as fast as possible when nervous. However, you are not trying to get your speech over with. Remember to enjoy the experience! Speeding will cause you to lose your place and forget what you were planning to say next. Talking slower will give your brain time to keep up with your mouth. The audience would much rather listen to a slow, calm presenter than an anxious, fast talker.


  • You are not in a race to finish the speech.

I recently watched a TEDMED speech where the woman presenting paused after every single sentence. Not only did she pause after every sentence, she also spoke extremely slowly! While I thought her speech dragged a little, I did have time to catch and consider every single word she said. There is no need for a frantic pace. Silence is not evil. In fact, silence gives both speaker and audience members a second to reflect, which is priceless. One word of caution: if you pause, remember to stay engaged. Do not look down at the ground, stare into space, or bore a hole in the ceiling from the intensity of your gaze. If you pause, you need to show the audience that you are still present and thinking of what you are going to say next.


  • Your written speech is a guide, not a rigid dictator.

If you are simply unable to remember the next sentence, go off script. Many speakers struggle through their presentations because they are trying to recall the exact wording on their written speech. You know the message you are trying to convey. You know your facts. Just relax and tell us about your topic! Even if you have to end a point short, just move on to the next point that you can recall. There is no rule that you must say every word that is on your written speech. Since no one in the audience has a copy of your speech, they will never know that you forgot something if you just keep moving.

In conclusion, your momentary forgetfulness is not the end of the world, even though it may feel like a complete disaster to you. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and continue on. The audience is eager to hear what you have you to share!


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