Escaping the Mental Block – Routines to Help You Deliver Your Best on Stage
Picture this – you have prepared your script, internalised your content, and rehearsed your body language cues. You are ready for this big business presentation, and start delivering your content. Things are moving smoothly when suddenly, your mind blanks out on the next part of your speech. The silence seems deafening, so you continue to repeat sentences or speak in circles, hoping that the next point will return to your mind. Nothing happens, and you are now just standing there, hoping for the best. What would you do?
The scenario we described above is more common than you think. Often, it starts because of a fear or stage anxiety element that kicks in without a trigger. The pressure we place on ourselves, balanced against the audience’s expectations, may sometimes hit after a delayed start. For other speakers, the situation can arise from a distraction in the audience (e.g., someone speaking or using the phone) or a memory distraction (e.g., cannot remember).
Whatever the reason may be above, the focus is on ensuring that your presentation proceeds smoothly as you continue delivering value to your audience. Today, we will focus on managing that mental block when it comes to fear-based triggers!
When the mental block happens, the tendency is to try and fill the inevitable silence. This is where speakers find themselves ‘rambling’ or talking in circles, hoping the block clears. The challenge is that the speaker surrenders the control to something unpredictable – whether the point will appear in the speaker’s mind or the block clears a question that can only be answered by how the speaker manages the situation.
Instead of going with the tendency above, you can adopt the purposeful pause to try and shift your focus back to your presentation content. The emphasis on “purposeful” highlights the importance of ensuring focus in this block. Instead of trying to grasp the ‘missing’ part of your presentation, concentrate on the broad structure of your presentation and the next big part to deliver next. If you need more time, try re-emphasising the points you have just shared or direct a question to the audience for them to reinforce their learning!
Nip It From the Start
The mental block can be managed before you step onto the speaking stage. This situation often happens because a speaker is beholden to the verbatim (i.e., word for word) script. When the mental block happens, they face the steep challenge of trying to remember the exact word/phrase for the next part. This is why we often recommend that speakers internalise their speech instead of rote memorising their script.
For internalisation of the speech, the key is understanding the role of a broad structure as a guiding tool. This requires speakers to summarise their speech into core components that are more digestible in terms of content mastery. One way to do so is to explain your speech or presentation to a neutral third party – when you “explain” your speech, your aim is not to recite the speech in full but to present a summary of your key points, objective, and plan. Doing so also gives you a few lines you can rely on if a mental block appears.
Finally, there may be situations where you are still unable to find your next content even after all the steps above. Part of developing your routine in managing such mental blocks is the confidence in carving a safe space for you to consult your materials. These respectful transitions ensure you still deliver valid points to your audience while setting an accurate and honest response.
For example, start your respectful transition with an acknowledgement/apology but reiterate the importance of your topic, e.g. “I do apologise as I seem to have lost my train of thought. Let me re-emphasise that today’s topic’s aim is …”. Next, set out how you will deliver the ‘blocked’ point and the action plan, e.g., “I will need to do a quick check on my materials, but once we conclude with that we will explore …”. To wrap it out, ensure commitment and provide reassurance to your audience!
Take the Stage with Bravery!
When the mental block happens, the silence on stage can be terrifying for speakers, even experienced communicators! The objective is to retain control of your speaking time and space on stage. You want to continue delivering value to the audience, and they will likely support you despite the mental block. We hope that with the steps above, you can design a routine to help yourself in such situations!
Extra tips – WATCH: “Mental Block!? 😱 Here’s How You Can STILL IMPRESS When Your Mind Goes Blank!”
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