The most common question I get asked about presenting has to be , ‘ How do I remember what to say next?’. The question reveals a fear that I guess most of us have harboured at some point. The fear of standing there and the mind going completely and utterly blank. The dread of not knowing what you have just said let alone what you need to say next and a deep longing for the ground to open up in front of you.
Here are six tips to help you remember what to say:
1. Rehearse. Ok, so you knew that one was coming but there is rehearsal and there is rehearsal. Rehearsing to remember everything word for word ( like the lines of a play or a poem) is making life very difficult for ourselves. We put enormous pressure on ourselves if our aim of rehearsing is to be word perfect. Don’t get me wrong: it is important to use the right words, phrases and stories and that will come through well structured rehearsal. But for most of us (politicians not with standing) learning a script is making hard work of something that doesn’t need to be. Use the rehearsal to memorise the flow of the presentation. Use the rehearsal to practice the physical and vocal movements that accompany your words so that on the day your body, mind (and soul) will know what it needs to do in concert. Use rehearsal to make changes towards the perfect…and so you feel comfortable making those changes and with the change process.
2. Structure well. The better your structure, the better you will remember what to say. This is not the same as remembering a script or list of what you have to say (even if it is divided up into logical chunks). This is about knowing how one section flows into the next. This is about understanding the transitions within your overall presentation and what you will be saying and doing at each of these points. Once you have ‘got’ this, then the content, the detail as it were, comes to mind so much more readily. It is these transitions that I run through just before speaking because this framework will give me the confidence to know that the content will come to mind just when I need it to.
3. Give your material shape and form. If your content is lists of information or bullet points , then it is hard to remember this when under pressure. When your material has a shape ( maybe a model or a story line) and form( three key points, a series of connections, an order of priority for example) then not only does it make it easier for us to recall but it makes it easier for the audience to understand as well.
4. Have a prompt sheet with you. Many people shy away from having a sheet with them as they see this as unprofessional or feel it suggests that they don’t know their stuff. Others take up a script with them either in a note book or on pages of notes or handfuls of card. The challenge here is that the speaker gets sucked into reading rather than speaking with the audience, or can’t find their way when they need it. A prompt sheet is a safety net (hopefully never used) rather than a crutch. On that basis a good prompt sheet will have everything on one page, be colour coded so the colours prompt you (rather than having to read it) and be to hand if you need it. ** I teach my clients to use a Pathway Planner which helps them do exactly that.
5. One step back to go one step forward. Sometimes when we go blank we get completely stuck. If we don’t stop to take stock at this point we run the risk of blathering on, waffling or telling the audience that we are lost or have gone ‘wrong’. So PAUSE. Nine times out of ten, the pause is enough to kick-start our brain and get us back on the right path again. And for the tenth time where that doesn’t work, PAUSE and the REWIND. Repeat what you have just said to prompt yourself of the flow. (imagine you have gone upstairs to get something, got to the top of the stairs and then forgot what you went up there for! If you are younger than 30 reading this you might not know what I mean but it will come to you eventually!) In order to remember what it was that you needed, you have to return downstairs to the position you were in when you originally thought of the idea and bingo!. Suddenly you remember again.) Sometimes the brain needs a little kick start…go back to come forward again.
6. Ask a question. In the same way a question prompts the audience and gets them thinking and participating, a question to yourself helps prompt what comes next. ‘So, what happened next?’ or ‘ What do you think that leads to?’ ‘ How does that help us?’ are examples of questions you can ask to remind yourself what comes next. And in the process you engage your audiences. Double whammy!
Do you have tips on how you remember what to say? Please share in the comments box below. And contact Catherine if you would like to chat about your presentations. The Expert’s Presentation Game Plan is an online training programme supplemented with one to ones direct with Catherine herself. Click here for more details.