HOW TO BOUNCE BACK FROM PRESENTATION BRAIN FREEZE
By CHRISTINA HESSION
You’re delivering an important work presentation or a speech at a social occasion. You’re a big hit with the audience. They’re laughing in all the right places. Hanging on your every word. Then, the unthinkable happens. You lose your train of thought. Has that ever happened to you?
If so, you’re not alone. According to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, “People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral you’re better off in the casket, than doing the eulogy”.
If brain freeze has happened during a presentation or speech, don’t be too down on yourself. Choking happens to almost everyone from time to time – from prime ministers to sports people and those in the entertainment industry.
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 in public again for 27 years. “I couldn’t come out of it”, she said. “It was shocking for me to forget the words”. Still battling her fears on her comeback concert in Madison Square Gardens, she chose to use teleprompters, to ensure she did not forget the lines to her songs. Older and wiser, Barbara Streisand later commented: “Performing is not about perfection”.
Laurence Olivier, first became afflicted with a sudden and severe case of stage fright in 1964, while playing Othello at the National Theatre. Ironically, this role was acclaimed by many critics as the work of a master thespian. During his last decade on stage, a determined Oliver used several self-protective strategies, such as avoiding eye contact with the audience, to minimise distraction.
In what is still considered to be one of the most spectacular chokes in sporting history, Australian golfer, Greg Norman, went from six up to five down over the last round at the US Masters in Augusta in 1996.
Choking or brain freeze is triggered when we get so anxious that we seize conscious control over a task that should be executed automatically (i.e. with ‘unconscious competence’).
The good news is that you can triumph over brain freeze. Here are some top tips for getting the most from your presentations and speeches and nailing brain freeze once and for all:
- Practice, practice, practice. The old adage is true – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Don’t memorise every word of your presentation – just the beginning and the end. Know your three key points. Use personal stories or anecdotes, which will be easier to remember. Re-live the experience, which will ensure an energetic presentation that will connect with the audience. Have notecards with key phrases nearby just in case.
- Sleep: Prepare for an important presentation or speech by getting good quality sleep. Avoid over rehearsing and listen to your body. Without proper rest the mind-body system falters and eventually shuts down.
- Eat well: Cut out take-aways and carbohydrates, like white bread and sugary foods. Replace these with oily fish and fresh vegetables. Cut down on coffee and tea. Replace with calming herbal teas and aim to drink two to three litres of water per day.
- Exercise: Aim to take at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise each day to alleviate tension. You can also use the time to mentally rehearse your presentation. It’s also a good method of generating presentation ideas.
- Focus and be in the moment: Pre presentation, clear the mind of irrelevant thoughts, distractions and tensions. Try this exercise: Focus on an object, let everything else blur into the background and let all external sounds become inaudible. Use simple reminders or cue words (for example, focus, relax, smooth), to keep your mind on target.
- Confront your worst case scenarios: On a sheet of paper, write down on one side the worst things that could happen e.g. you lose your place. On the other side, write down how you could handle this scenario if it happens, e.g. you pause, take a sip of water to give you time to think of what you were saying pre brain freeze, or you could 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” or “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most”.
- Meditation: Practicing meditation for at least 15 minutes per day will enhance your concentration and reduce your stress levels. Another advantage is a deep and restful sleep. Start off with just five minutes, and 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 to your presentation e.g. shaking, dry mouth, forgetting your words. And then visualise yourself triumphing over these feared obstacles, and delivering a fantastic presentation to an appreciative audience.
- Breathing: Breathe deeply from your diaphragm to relax you and lower tension. Try this exercise: Lie on your back and place a hand gently on your stomach. Breathe through your nose and feel your stomach rising as your inhale, and falling as you exhale. Ensure your inhalations and exhalations last the same amount of time, and count while you do this. 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. Take it from me, this will trap you in a never ending cycle of defeat, and you will torment yourself before and during each subsequent presentation. 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. Remember, they want you to succeed.
Most importantly of all, enjoy your presentation or speech. Before you start, take a moment and smile at your audience. Think of it as your handshake with them. Be energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy what you are doing. If you’re enjoying the presentation, the audience will too. Go on, give the best presentation of your life.
About the Author
Christina Hession is a member of Phoenix-Tara Toastmasters and Naas Toastmasters in Ireland and has achieved Advanced Communicator Gold & Advanced Leadership Bronze and is District 71 Toastmaster of the Year, 2013.
About Toastmasters International
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization’s 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. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.