By Christina Hession, Toastmasters International
You’re delivering an important presentation. You’re a big hit with the audience. Then, the unthinkable happens. You lose your train of thought.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Choking happens to almost everyone from time to time.
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 again for 27 years. At her comeback in Madison Square Gardens she chose to use teleprompters. Older and wiser, Barbara Streisand 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; you can triumph over brain freeze. Here are some tips:
- Practice: Only memorise the beginning and end. Know your three key points. Use personal stories or anecdotes – they’re easier to remember. Have notecards with key phrases – just in case.
- Sleep: Get good quality sleep and avoid over rehearsing. Without rest the mind-body system falters.
- Eat well: Eat healthily, replace tea and coffee with herbal teas, drink two litres of water per day.
- Exercise: 20 minutes of aerobic exercise each day will alleviate tension. You can also use the time to mentally rehearse your presentation or come up with new ideas.
- Focus and be in the moment: Pre presentation, clear the mind of irrelevant thoughts. Try this: Focus on an object, let everything else blur into the background, let all external sounds become inaudible. Think “focus, relax, smooth” to keep your mind on target.
- Confront your worst case scenarios: Write down the worst things that could happen. Then write down how you could handle this, e.g. pause, take a sip of water to give you time to think, or you 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”.
- Meditation: Daily meditation will enhance concentration and reduce stress. Start off with just five minutes; concentrate on your in and out breaths, if you get distracted by external sounds or thoughts, just re-focus on your breathing.
- Visualization: Visualise any feared obstacle and then visualise yourself triumphing over it and delivering a fantastic presentation to an appreciative audience.
- Breathing: Breathe deeply from your diaphragm to relax you and lower tension. Try this: Breathe through your nose, 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.
- Keep Going: If you go blank, don’t end your presentation and sit down. This will trap you in a never ending cycle of defeat and fear. 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. Before you start, take a moment and smile at your audience. Think of it as your handshake with them. Be energetic and enthusiastic. If you’re enjoying the presentation, the audience will too.
About the Author:
Christina Hession is a member of Toastmasters International a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Membership exceeds 292,000 in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are over 250 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members.