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Does anyone experience a situation of blank mind during their presentation?

I had a presentation in last month in USA. My presentation was going very well, probably due to enough practice, but during the presentation my mind suddenly went blank at a point. The situation became so worse that I could not even complete my sentence. The sentence was actually:

The reason could be due to the fact that stronger events have higher increasing rates.

The word "higher" didn't come to my mind and suddenly my mind went blank. So I just repeated 2-3 times "stronger events have.... have... stronger events have..." and finally stopped saying. Though few other words like "rapid, more or larger" were coming to my mind to complete the sentence, but the appropriate word "higher" or any similar word did not come. Moreover, I was telling this sentence from my mind completely, so I could not take help from my slides also. Finally I changed my sentence in a different way:

The reason could be due to the fact that the rate of stronger events increases more rapidly compare to weaker events.

It again surprised me that I could not even able to remind the word "higher" until I heard the same word in my next presenter's talk. This is not the first time, but not often.

So I am wondering does it happen due to some particular lacks in me that I need to develop? e.g., I am not a native English speaker. I am also wondering the proper way to handle similar situations when you don't find a suitable word to complete your sentence just because mind goes blank?

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    I think this happens constantly to everyone, and they handle it the same way: find an alternate word or phrasing. – Nate Eldredge Feb 21 '18 at 15:31
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    Take a deep breath, say that the word escapes you, pause, re-group and continue. All of us have had it happen so your audience will be sympathetic... Don't forget what seems like a huge pause to you is perhaps only a few seconds to your audience - they can think you are giving them time to assimilate the information... – Solar Mike Feb 21 '18 at 15:53
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    Honestly I get horrible presentation anxiety. It's so bad that I have to be very careful to not puke or pass out beforehand. I have a HR monitor and my last talk at a major conference had my heart rate at 170 for 10 minutes. I get around this by practicing my talk A LOT. I remember every single word I say, and I regurgitate it by rote. It takes time, it's not the expert way to do it, but it works. Otherwise I get mind blanks just like you. – la femme cosmique Feb 22 '18 at 8:15
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You may be experiencing what is called "mind blanks".

Before I answer, remember that every individual is unique and many factors could be the cause of the mind blanks you are experiencing.

  • It may be fatigue, let's say you may have been doing your presentation for already half an hour, and it is natural, if you aren't too passionate about your subject, to get tired or have your brain pull the plug for a brief moment, as random thoughts run through your head. To remedy this, I personally try to get a coffee/espresso half an hour before doing a presentation. Caffeine can help connections between those gray cells.

  • You may get distracted, sometimes when looking through the room, you may notice something about one of the people that sets you off and it completely shatters your concentration, and trying to get back to your topic can be challenging.

  • Whenever that happens, try going a step or two backwards, ask yourself "what did I say before I lose track of my speech?", it's okay to start over from a previous sentence and it will also reduce your stuttering or "uhhh"-ing.

  • Lack of self confidence may also be a factor of disruption in your speeches. Thoughts rushing through your head may interrupt your speech and before you know it you focus on that one point, making you feel like your short-term memory completely failed registering what you were just saying. Fear and feeling exposed can completely freeze some people.

  • Make sure to remain structured in your presentations, if you happen to use your slides to help yourself, remember that slide unicity is crucial, one slide should contain one and only one message. It'll be better for your audience and for yourself. Audience often forgets anything you had said 30s earlier if you deliver a poor presentation.

All that being said, my personal experience has taught me this :

One thing/trick I noticed that is crucial to a "perfectly" fluid presentation, is to be completely passionate about your subject. Whenever I knew my topic by heart, and was wholeheartedly implied in it, I would actually have a hard time to remain concise and synthetic, simply because I knew so much about the subject that I wanted to explain every single aspect and each of these aspects would also pull another string of 10 micro-subjects.

Unfortunately, in corporate environments, you don't always choose your topic and it can be hard feeling implied and dedicated in it.

If it happens again, try to relax, take it slow, I suggest to not put pressure on yourself as it will only make things worse. Another crippling event that happens along these mind blanks is caring about what people think, so be aware of that as well.

Now to handle this situation towards your audience, do not hesitate to apologize or even ask somebody in the room what you were saying just before, that way you might even be able to add a touch of humor behind this and be like "just making sure everyone's still with me". This is a common joke amongst teachers.

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Here are some brainstorming thoughts. I'm partially inspired by my experience as a musician, sometimes needing to perform from memory, and sometimes experiencing unpredictable physiological reactions to the adrenaline of performance nerves; by my experience coping with anxiety about a hearing impairment; and by my experience helping my son with Tourette Syndrome find ways of coping with unpredictable neurological symptoms.

  1. For each slide, write down the full text and store it below the slide. Don't display these notes even to yourself during the presentation, unless you draw a blank, in which case you can bring up the notes in order to rescue the sentence. Then you can turn off the notes again.

    Maybe you'll never need to use the notes. But knowing they are there can bring peace of mind and reduce anxiety.

  2. Let's suppose there's a technical failure with the slide notes. What else can you do?

    a) Say some transition words to help you jump to the next point, such as

    • Etc.
    • I'm suddenly blanking but hopefully you've figured out what I was getting at.
    • I will come back to this slide later.

    b) Just leave a little hole, ignore it and keep going.

    c) Ask the air, "Sorry, I just went blank. What did I just say?" Someone will repeat the beginning of your sentence for you, and this may pop you back into the thought. Even if you haven't actually forgotten what you just said, it can still be helpful to hear the first part of your sentence, coming from someone else's voice.

    d) Enlist the help of a friend, colleague, session organizer, or friendly volunteer ahead of time. If you're in a blank, you can look to this friendly face for a prompt.

    e) If you experience a blank again, or if you are suffering with anxiety about blanks, it may be a good idea to inform your audience, at the beginning, that it might happen. This gets easier with practice, and once you're comfortable with disclosure, it's quite helpful in lowering anxiety.

  3. As a preventive measure, design your presentations to be more interactive and less of a monologue. This can help you get out of yourself (less stuck inside yourself), which can be helpful as a means of prevention.

  4. As you are preparing to give your presentation, after you've put together all your slides, diagram your talk, and then during your practice talks, try to develop an awareness of where you are in the outline as you're going along. It can be helpful to have a clear idea of where you're about to go and how this fits into the whole.

  5. Try mapping your talk to a fairy tale. This is a variant of Idea 4, actually.

  6. Learn how to take a deep breath and relax your body when you experience sudden stress. Part of this learning process is to discover what body parts tense up when you're nervous.

Remember that adrenaline isn't all bad. Adrenaline can make the talk feel exciting and fresh.

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A good way to take a few seconds of break during a presentation, giving you an opportunity to clear your mind and focus on what you were going to say next, is to drink a little bit of water. Most conference venues prepare water bottles for the speakers, but it is also useful to bring your own just in case there is none where you give your talk. It is very common for speakers to do so, so the audience won't even care about it.

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So I am wondering does it happen due to some particular lacks in me?

No, it's not you; I know lots of people who've had the experience of suddenly going blank for a few seconds in a talk. If there's also a language barrier, that probably doesn't help....but overall it's a common experience for presenters. As you give more talks, these moments should get rarer.

I am also wondering the proper way to handle similar situations?

In the moment: your brain needs a reset. You can pause and take a breath, maybe drink a sip of water. I will sometimes pause, then repeat my last phrase to gain another few seconds to think. As an audience member, I don't mind when a speaker does this...actually I barely notice.

Ahead of time: Practice your talk until you are comfortable with it (sounds like you already do this).

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