Ever wonder what you can do when you can’t remember your next word on stage? One of the biggest fears of public speaking is people forgetting what they’re going to say. And there is nothing worse than being in the audience and seeing that happen. You can tell that their whole spirit left their body and there’s a blank shell of a speaker standing before you.
I want to show you how you can prevent this from happening. But what if you can’t and you end up forgetting your speech? What do you do? I have four or five things in this article that you can do to help you to get out of that.
As a speaker, It may just happen to you. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but I know it’s happened to me in my speaker lifetime. Let me give you some of the strategies that I’ve used and they’ve helped me a lot.
Practice. Prepare. Plan.
Being prepared is everything, and being prepared enough is key. Practicing one hour for every two minutes of your speech is everything. Sometimes people may feel a little bit prepared, or I think they have practiced enough, or that they have given this speech plenty of time, ‘so I don’t need to practice right now’. Then they get on stage and they forget the key story they were going to tell.
It’s happened to me. Back when I was a professional storyteller before I became an international speaker, I was at this folk festival and I was all dressed up in the old-fashioned dress with my hair in a bun, and completely I forgot what I was going to say. I went into panic mode. Luckily, one of Michael’s granddaughters was there and I had told her the story a million times. She remembered the story. She was in the front row and gave me a cue. That was lucky.
You want to make to prepare every single detail. The more prepared you are the better. That means everything including your speech transitions, your clothes, directions, and all the mechanics. Preparing is way beyond hunkering down and practicing your speech. It’s practicing everything and planning the details.
What are you going to wear? Make sure your car has gasoline the day before. Have your clothes laid out so you are not looking for them in the morning. Have your bag packed with all your supplies, chargers, handouts, notes, tissues, extra makeup, etc.
Have your breakfast planned, especially if you have to travel far. Plan, prepare, and practice. All three P’s will help you. Have everything you need ready to go so there is no stress on speaking day, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
“Visualizing your success is key to your success. And preparing is part of the visualizing process.”
Once you present your speech a hundred times, your chances of forgetting go way down. I used to have times when I couldn’t remember my next word, but now that I’ve done over 4,000 speeches it doesn’t happen anymore. That’s why I want you to get out and do more speeches. I recommend at least once a week, minimum, getting on a podcast, getting speaking engagements, doing some reels, or videos. Eventually, you’ll just know you’re in the zone. I can’t even explain what the zone is, but when you’re there, you’ll feel it.
Using the 3 P’s of practicing, planning, and preparing will lower your stress, help you get in the zone, and lower your chance of forgetting your words on stage.
Transition statements work as an anchor. The idea is to be able to transition from thought number one to thought number two in an easy way that allows you to lock it into your memory and remember what you’re going. Of course, you still have to practice, but include anchors in your speech of transition statements.
Anchors connect the dots. Those dots can be stories, tips, or quotes. If you’re going from one thought to another, you can embed a story and use it to lead you comfortably out and into the next topic.
The reason that we often lose our place is not only because we haven’t prepared enough, but because one topic is totally different from another topic. If it’s totally different from the next thing you’re going to talk about and there are no transition statements or connections. You don’t want to make it feel like you are starting over. You want a smooth transition from one thought to the other. It has to be clear that one thought is over. Let’s say you start by talking about supplements, then about vegetables, and then about exercise, those are three totally different topics. By weaving them together using either connectors or transition statements, you can create a flow from one to the other.
Connections work like a charm…
But it’s something you have to build into your speech and think about clearly and intentionally. It will take some preparation to build them in and then you need to practice them. One thing to keep in mind, if your connector or your transition statement is too long it can get confusing and seem like a new topic. Instead, keep your connector or transition statement short. Stories, quotes, and examples can all be connectors. As long as it supports what you are talking about is is not a new topic, it can be a connector.
Having a recovery strategy can also be helpful, even if we use connectors, transition statements, and practice the heck out of our speech, it still could happen to you. Sometimes the environment can be full of distractions, there could be a lot of activity happening during the event or in the same venue. Just like the example above when I was a professional storyteller at a folk festival where there were people everywhere. People were on stilts, dressed up in old-fashioned costumes, and there were a lot of distractions. Even though we were in a tent, I got distracted and all of a sudden, BOOM, the story completely left my body. This was before I got into public speaking, so I didn’t know these recovery strategies.
Note: Did you see what I just did? I made a connection by using a story and saying that I didn’t know these recovery strategies. I talked about recovery strategy, then I used the story to support it, and then I brought the thread back into recovery strategies. That’s how easy it can be. So don’t overthink it, don’t overcomplicate it, and don’t have it be too long.
The Cause of Forgetting Your Speech
Did you know? The number one cause of forgetting what you’re going to say is memorization. You’re destined for disaster and forgetfulness if you do.
Never memorize your speech. Practice it. Practice by saying it out loud, not by reading it, not by driving and thinking about it. It’s not a thought exercise and it’s not a writing exercise. It is a speaking exercise. Move those lips, get that voice. Whether you’ve prepared or not, you want to have a recovery strategy or two in place so that if in the rare chance, you forget your words, you know what to do.
Repeat Your Last Thought Or Sentence
When you feel like a deer in headlights, the very first strategy is to repeat what you just said. Repeating your last sentence does two things. One, it can help jog your memory. Two, it can be powerful for your audience! Because repeating sentences that are important throughout our speech is a good practice to emphasize a point and help the audience take it in. Therefore, you can use this strategy to make your transition even more powerful and give your mind a second to remember.
Furthermore, when you forget your words, train your face not to give it away or show the surprise. No big eyeballs or gaping mouth. Also, don’t cuss or say “Oh my God.” This just transfers the awkward feeling to the audience and that’s the last thing you want to do. Just repeat your last sentence.
This one I love, love, love, love, love. I’ve used it so many times. One time when I was in corporate America as a systems consultant working for a very big CPA company by the name of Deloitte. There I go again, using another story, but this time I’m name-dropping.
Drink Water & Have Your Notes On Hand
Working for a large well known CPA like Deloitte is not an easy job to get. Let me tell you that right now. Always build credibility in a savvy marketing way without being braggadocious way. So working for Deloitte, all right. And one day… I am at a big conference, and I was, as always, in the front row. And there’s a speaker they must have spent $10,000 for him. He was that good. And he’s all over this big stage and he’s moving back and forth. There must have been 500 people in the audience. And I’m up front in the front row. So I see him and he’s all over the stage, over here, over there. And then at one point, I see him walk over to the lectern where his notes were, his outline or his notes. He bends down, takes a drink of water, looks at his notes, comes up, puts it down, and delivers. And the only reason why I saw him looking at his notes is because I was in the front row. No one else probably did.
The audience just thought, Oh, he has a little something in his throat? We all would give a speaker permission to sip water without question. This will work whether you’re on a big stage, have a lecture, or if you’re at a table setting where you just ate lunch. Make sure that you have a glass of water right there. Don’t finish your water during lunch. And then place your notes, or your outline right where your meal plate was along with your water glass. This is my number one go-to strategy for recovery and it works like a charm.
The next technique. Now, I don’t always recommend this, but sometimes you don’t have water available. What do you do? You can’t fake it. Instead, you can interject a distraction like dropping something. Be careful with this one. Make sure that you can pick it up and that the item doesn’t roll around. Find something and you could drop it and pick it up. Maybe it’s paper.
As an aside, don’t put your notes on three-by-five cards because if you drop them, you’ll be playing 52-card pickup. So we don’t want something like that. But dropping could work.
Better than dropping is holding on. It is a technique I learned this technique when I studied theater in college. In one of my acting classes, they trained us to hang on to something. It could be a person. So if you forget your line, hang on to something, the person in front of you, or the person with you. You can even grab their hand and say give me a minute. It doesn’t work to grab your own body. I tried that. It doesn’t work. But a physical object, it could be the lectern, it could be your papers, it could be a microphone. Hold it consciously just for a second. What happens is this. the spirit leaves the body, gone. You go like this and anchor it. It’s like an anchor. And Right? Okay. So anchor. It comes back. It works. I hope that you as a speaker have an opportunity to have the spirit leave the body so you can try this technique because it works every single time. It works like a charm. Simply hold on to something.
Another recovery strategy that I use all the time, and if you’ve been in my audiences for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me use this and that is, asking. Asking, where was I in my story? Most of the time, the place that you’re going to forget is in a story. Sometimes you do a story in a story which is called a nested story. You’ll often see me start a story and then I go to another story and then I have to find my way back and there’s no breadcrumbs back to the original story. So that’s when oftentimes you lose it.
Now, why do I do nested stories? Because I have become the script. But to use the power of nested stories you must become the script. And then what happens since I’m already the script and I’m in the zone and I’m going along, and then I get this intuition that somebody in my audience needs to hear a story that I wasn’t planning on sharing. That’s when I nest in another story. When it sounds like I’m going on a tangent, it’s because my intuition says somebody in the audience needed to hear that particular story, even though I hadn’t planned on sharing it.
When you travel over there (into a nested story), sometimes you need help getting back. So you just ask your audience when you’re done with the story, where was I in my story? Where was I? And I just keep asking until they say something that triggers me. I’m telling you, how many of you have seen me do this in a night? I know a lot of you. And then they’ll say something and it doesn’t trigger. And I keep asking until somebody says something that triggers it, or it naturally comes back inside of me. Plus, it’s another way to engage the audience and draw them in more. That’s an extra benefit. So don’t be afraid to ask, where was I? And then every time after I do that and I catch on, I say, “Wonderful, great. I was just wanting to make sure that you are all paying attention.”
Never let your audience see you sweat. You don’t say, “Oh, well, I totally blew that one. I totally was out of it.” No, you’re the speaker. They want you to succeed. So never share that.
Another recovery technique is breathing because sometimes we get so excited, we talk so fast, we get going on the railroad track and we forget to breathe. And breathing is a technique in communication as well. Just like when you’re in a conversation and things get starting to get a little heated, take a minute and breathe. Don’t respond. Take a minute and breathe. This it works in a speech. You can even stop and have everybody in the audience breathe. All right, so let’s just take a moment, and let’s all breathe in. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. And you could do any breathing technique that you know, love. Trust in your audience and have everybody do it with you. That’ll buy you some time for that connection to spirit to come back into your body as well.
Maintain Grace On Stage Even When You Forget Your Words
When your words escape you, these are techniques to help you recover successfully and keep going. You never want your audience to feel sorry for you, ever. They will if you show them any lack of confidence or frustration. Be enlightened and trust that you can keep going. Practice the recovery strategies as well so you’re always empowered when speaking.
Are you ready to have the skills of a professional speaker and feel confident even when you forget your words on stage? Schedule a time to chat, and we’ll find the right training path for you https://calendly.com/arveerobinson/30min