How to Avoid Drying up
Fear that your mind will suddenly go blank is very common. Some people call it stage fright. Others describe it as losing their train of thought. What a shame that smart people who have something of value to share avoid public speaking because they believe their minds will let them down just when it matters the most.
There are things you can do to conquer this most irrational of public speaking fears. Here are just a few of them…
1. If you believe you’ll dry up you probably will
You will hear me speak and see me write about beliefs a lot and I’ll save what I have to say about our limiting beliefs for a future post. For now, this all you need to know about belief:
Belief is a choice
You can choose to believe that you may run out of things to say, but you can also choose to believe that you won’t. So stop believing it! When I make a conscious decision to believe that I’ll be lucid, that my ideas will capture the audience’s imagination and that there is no chance at all that I’ll dry up, guess what: I’m never stuck for words.
Try this for yourself. Believe that you are a great speaker. It truly is the first step to becoming one.
2. Do a ‘mental rehearsal’
Here’s an open secret. I use an exercise called ‘mental rehearsal’ to make sure I’m completely confident about what I’m going to say and, more importantly, how I’m going to say it.
A mental rehearsal is a bit like a dress rehearsal, except it’s only you and you don’t have to dress up (unless you want to). I simply go into a room on my own, set a timer and ‘perform’ my entire presentation to a non-existance audience. Not only does this help me to hone public speaking essentials such as my body language and tone of voice, by practicing in this way I’m creating memories of doing the presentation before. When I do the presentation for real I can reach for my memories of the mental rehearsal and I’m never lost for words.
Try this. It really works.
3. Unleash your inner comedian
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you should try to be funny!
Think about the way stand-up comedians ply their trade. Their ‘sets’ tend to be a string of jokes or anecdotes strung together to make a performance. Are their shows word-for-word the same as they are scipted? Possibly, but they don’t have to be. More often, comedians have material, an audience, some time and an extra piece of magic: their expertise, which they use to blend together an apparently seamless, well-reheased set. If they stray from the script, who knows? Only they do.
You know your subject. Practice creating little set pieces or anecdotes that you can seamlessly drop into your presentation should you find yourself temporarily losing your train of thought. Relax. No-one but you knows that you’ve strayed from the script but you.
4. Become a great storyteller
There are ways and ways of telling someone something. You can stick to the bare facts and share what you know in the shortest form possible. Alternatively, you can embellish your points and create a ‘narrative’ or story. This doesn’t just make the presentation more interesting from the perspective of the audience, it can also help you to avoid drying up.
When was the last time you lost your train of thought while telling a story? Never happens, does it. Turn what you want to say into a story format and notice how much more confident you feel about remembering what you have to say.
5. Have notes
It is perfectly okay to keep notes nearby. Some people write a few bullet points on the back of their hand (comedian Stewart Lee famously does this!). You don’t have to speak without any kind of safety net. I always have notes on me somewhere… I very rarely use them because I practice the techniques described in points 1-4. But if I ever needed to look I my notes I could and that would be perfectly okay.