Public Speaking is said to be the biggest fear of many, and even over death.
It’s probably a bit exaggerated, but if there’s an option, most people will avoid doing this at all cost. I also believe there’s a good chance you hate public speaking.
You can still live a good life without doing a single presentation. However, if you wish to move up the corporate ladder, impact other people, or expose yourself to better opportunities, you’ll need to be comfortable with this.
I know, it feels awkward being the centre of attention. That’s why not many people are doing it. But on the other hand, since many are reluctant to do so, it’ll be so rewarding if you decide to step out the comfort zone picking up this skillset.
I used to hate public speaking a lot. Probably more so than you do, because I screwed up badly in my final year project presentation. I went mind blank, had no idea what to say, and my teammate had to cover me up on the spot.
I appreciated their help, but that experience has haunted me for a very long time. Fast forward to now, I’m still far from being a world-class speaker, but I think I’m doing a lot better. Because I’ve found ways to deal with the butterflies in my stomach as I speak.
There are lots of techniques in public speaking, but I feel being able to deal with the mind blank is the first thing we should learn before everything.
In this article, I want to share a few tips that I have been following to handle the mind blank, and that helps me so much in regaining my confidence in public speaking.
Why do we go mind blank?
Before we find ways to deal with mind blank, we need to identify the reason why that could happen.
You might think it’s probably due to lack of preparation or practice. Sure, it could be true for some, but to me, I think there’s more holding me back.
In my Final Year Presentation, I had been practising for weeks, and I knew the topic pretty well. I would have no problem explaining to a stranger in a one-on-one manner, but for some reason, I couldn’t think of anything when I speak in front of a group of people.
So I tried to recall how I felt back then.
That day, I was worried if they would understand what I have to say. I didn’t want to look like a fool on the stage. Then my throat dried up, my lips went twitching. The fear of rejection and failure had engulfed me.
The answer is quite apparent. I tend to get nervous when I have a large audience, and when I get nervous, most likely, I’ll lose it.
So apart from practising, we need to find ways to deal with the anxiety so that we can avoid the mind blank and recover as soon as we can.
Public speaking is difficult. You have to make sure you deliver your content and structure your thought at the same time. When you make a tiny mistake or somehow get distracted, your flow is interrupted, and then a mind blank is likely to happen.
You know you must recover as soon as you can, but it’s not easy when everyone is staring at you, waiting for you to carry on. You’ll probably force yourself to come up with something, but most likely that won’t work very well when you are under stress.
So the first and foremost thing to do is to calm yourself. Don’t worry about looking bad. Take your time recovering. If it takes ten seconds or even a minute, so be it.
Take a few deep breathes, walk around at the stage. Grab a bottle of water and get yourself hydrated if possible. Joke around if you want to make it a bit more casual. Whichever way that could help you relax and calm down.
I can’t stress enough that if you are not calm, you might as well stop talking because it’ll only get worse.
Be comfortable with silence
So earlier I said, to recover from mind blank you need to be calm, and of course it’ll take time to recover, right? That implies you need to stop talking for a bit.
One big problem is we fear silence during a presentation. Some people might try to force themselves to blurt out something when they are not ready, and as a result, what they said will be full of filler words. Such as “um”, “ah”, “you know”, “so”, “well”, and the list goes on and on.
It’s ok to use it occasionally as a transition, but when we are under stress, we’ll use it a lot more without even noticing it, and too much of that can be distracting and unprofessional.
What I want to say is, we should be comfortable with silence. It’s ok to pause. What’s even better, you can use silence to your advantage, such as staring the audiences to make your speech more impactful.
Don’t force yourself to speak when you are not ready.
Remind yourself you are an expert
Even I knew quite well of what I have to present in my Final Year Project, the thing is, I saw that presentation as an obligation.
I did the presentation not because I’m passionate to share what I know, but instead, this is something I have to do to graduate. I was subconsciously imposing stress on myself, and that isn’t helpful at all.
Now think of something that you are really passionate about or a great experience you had. Say you travelled to Paris earlier and you enjoyed every moment of it, and you are going to share your travelling story as a presentation.
You will be less likely to have mind blank, because one, you are excited about what you are going to say, and two, you have a unique experience, and no one is going to criticize you on that.
What really works for me is, try to get into the mental state by thinking you have a great story to tell and believe what you say will inspire the audience. That will make a world of difference.
Duh. Of course you need to practice to get good at it. It’s a skill that will take a lifetime to master. You might say, well I don’t have that many opportunities to speak in front of a group of people, but it sounds like an excuse to me.
You can start by making an online presence, such as talking in front of a camera and upload it on Youtube, or doing Live on different social media platform like Instagram or Facebook. It’s a great way of practice, and there’s virtually no risk even if you fail.
Once you do more of it, you’ll find it easier to structure your thoughts when you speak. And of course, joining Toastmaster would also help. If you look it up on Meetup, you should be able to find a local club and start from there.
Public speaking can be stressful and that’s why most of us hate it. But as I said it could be very rewarding if you have decided to step out of your comfort zone and give it a go.
If you know how to deal with the mind blank, I think that’s halfway to success already. So the key takeaway here: first is understand that mind blank happens when your flow is interrupted, and if that happens the first thing you need to do is calm yourself. Do whatever it takes to regroup because if you are not calm, there’s no way you can do an excellent presentation.
You can use a few ways to calm yourself, such as drinking water, walk around the stage, taking deep breathes and utilize the power of silence. Also, what I find really helpful is be excited about what you have to say and visualize your audience will learn heaps just from hearing what you said.
And of course, you need to practice. The more you do, the easier it’ll get.
So that’s pretty much it. Comment below if you find this helpful, that will mean a lot to me!