What if I forget?
A common fear in presenting is of forgetting what comes next.
And therefore a common mistake is to counteract that by trying to memorise too much.
However, in normal conversation, we never worry that much about what comes next.
So what is the difference?
Does it all come down to being 'under the spotlight'?
At a party, you could be sharing your opinion with another guest.
Suddenly the room goes quiet and everyone has turned towards you to hear what you are going to say next.
Chances are you would become totally self-conscious and no longer be able to speak.
We can talk about feeling exposed and under pressure,
we can talk about fear of failure or embarrassment
and we can talk about the weight of expectation (usually our own!).
In the end, however, it probably all comes down to 2 things: conviction and clarity of thought.
If at the party, you were talking about something that you felt strongly about;
if you were convinced about your key point and passionate in your beliefs, after a moment's hesitation, you would probably be able to continue.
So the clearer the message and the stronger your reason for speaking, the less likely you are to get lost in what you want to say.
I recently attended the final of a youth speaking event.
An hour before the contest one of the girls asked my colleague:
'What if I forget?'
He gave most of the tips we would normally suggest: slowing down, taking a breath, and he explained to her that a pause never seems as long for the audience as it feels for the speaker, etc...
I had trained this girl, so when I started to speak to her, there was a smile of recognition because she probably knew what was coming.
I asked: 'Do you know your last line?'
She said 'Yes.'
'Do you know the point of your speech?'
She said 'Yes.'
'Then you'll be OK!'
That may sound simplistic and almost dismissive.
However, I was highlighting a couple of principles that I knew she already understood.
Firstly, if you know your last line, which usually contains the 'message' or the 'point' of the speech, and you forget some of the content, you can always jump straight to your main point. The speech may seem a little short, but at least the point gets across.
Secondly, she realised that if you get stuck for a moment, that clear knowledge of your last line will usually be enough to pull you back onto the path and remind you of what you wanted to say.
And she also understood that the key to a successful presentation is simplicity.
We have a tendency when we are under pressure to overcomplicate.
So the effect of knowing your last line is twofold:
(i) it gives you a safe place to cut to if you get lost mid-speech (it is like an escape gate in a maze)
(ii) it acts like a bright beacon drawing you back onto the path to your conclusion,
â€¦which in turn brings a third benefit, - it keeps everything simple, which helps reduce the pressure,
which means you are less likely to forget anything in the first place!