Afraid of “Blanking Out” When Speaking Publicly? Three Tips for Recovery and the Silver Linings They Bring

Nervous Woman Holding Microphone

In my thirty years of representing and coaching public speakers at all levels I’ve seen few actually “blank out.”  Five, to be precise.  That’s five people out of approximately five thousand.  It’s rare and therefore highly unlikely you will “blank out” at the podium.  Think about it.  You’re asked to give a talk, deliver a speech, present on a panel, teach a class or facilitate a workshop because you are an expert on the subject matter.  And you’re anxious about messing up so you prepare your content meticulously and practice your delivery not until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong.  You own it.  Yet, you fear “blanking out.”  Take comfort in knowing that the pause you come to in your delivery before the audience is just you temporarily losing your train of thought.  And for that, I recommend three remedies that not only work to reroute you back to your message, but arm you with confidence, boost your rapport with your audience and enhance your reputation as an expert who is sophisticated yet approachable,  humble and larger than any one glitch.

Humor works well with formal addresses before audiences of over one hundred. Recently I saw Theresa Caputo – the Long Island Medium – live before an audience of 3000.  Before she began channeling, she gave a twenty-minute speech to orient the audience and introduce herself.  At one point, she paused and exclaimed, “I forgot what I was going say.”  And then she immediately followed that up with a smile and in a bellowing voice declared, “You think it’s tough talking to dead people; try giving a speech to thousands of the living!”  The audience roared with applause and by the time it ebbed she was back on track and, it seemed, more beloved for her humility and humorous handling of her own faux pas.  Tip #1  Prepare a humorous comment in advance of your talk – just in case.


Asking the audience for help is thrice nice.  In hours-long classes, small workshops and all-day seminars in which I take questions as they arise, I sometimes lose my place.  Simply asking the audience, “Where were we?” – while scratching my head and saying “Yikes!” for emphasis – invites students and program participants to contribute and help me out.  That not only gets me back to my prepared remarks but also reignites a feel-good synergy between us.  People like to be helpful and when someone can help a speaker gone silent, it engenders compassion and dispels the awkwardness we experience when a speaker struggles alone in the spotlight.  As a practical matter, it also prompts the group to revisit their notes and that review of the material is reinforcing of my message.  All in all, it’s a win-win-win.  Tip #2  Practice asking sincerely for the assistance you need to get back on track – just in case.


Quoting someone of renown goes a long way in reminding ourselves and the audience that speaking before a group is a stressful endeavor for any human being – even the highly educated, empirically successful and very experienced.  When preparing to address mature audiences, I practice saying with a wide smile “I am thinking now of Roscoe Drummond who said, ‘The mind is a wonderful thing.  It starts working the minute your born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.’  Take a deep breath with me, will you, as I retrieve my mind from its coffee break!”  Be mindful of those who paved the way in this medium – from Aristotle to Mark Twain to Tony Robbins –  their perspectives on stumbles put ours in very good company.  Tip #3  Borrow the eloquence, wit and stature of one who resonates with your audience and call them in as a life line by quoting them.  Have handy that apt quotation – just in case.


Remember, prepared speakers can’t hide their preparation.  Audiences sense it and know when a presenter has selected content with care and skill and when a speaker has practiced for a smooth delivery – even if a hiccup sneaks in.  And, at the end of the day, you are boldly doing what 80% of people report is their number one fear in life.  That brings you support and respect.  Rather than magnify an “imperfection” in your delivery by melting down or apologizing or leaving the stage, let it work for you and for your audience.  Graciously and skillfully turn it into an opportunity for a show of humor, humility or the words of the titans who have generously shared both with us.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels and as keynoters since 1988. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college courses on oral communication.  She is President of Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a speakers bureau that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at and follow her firm at


Make Your Message Memorable: Speak “Synoptically” This Season


Calling all panelists, presenters, keynoters and hosts!  It’s October and conference season is upon us!  Are you ready?  Are you confident?  Is your message memorable?  At the risk of over-simplifying, my suggestion for making the points in your presentation more resonant will help not only your listeners remember your words of wisdom, but also help you to deliver them without notes and with greater confidence.  What’s the tip?  Speak your main points synoptically.  Crystallize your key content into sentences that are crisp, comprehensive and companionable with the human ear.   Listen as you say aloud the following examples.

Talking gets the appointment; listening makes the sale.

When it comes to retirement, if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail.

Content, digital, social media and more: marketing is still everything and everything is still marketing.

Hear it?

A dash of rhetoric will enhance the sound of your synoptic phrasing.  Select a device that is consistent with the tenor of the point you are making.  If it’s light and playful then alliteration is a candidate: Today, there’s a bounty of botanicals to beat the winter blues and blahs!  Is your point comprehensive?  Try chiasmus for that “final-word-on-the-subject” sound:  Distance learning is the future of education and the education of the future.”  Is your presentation revelatory?  Juxtaposition works naturally: New research shows that small talk plays a big role in long-term negotiations.  Is your point counter-intuitive or complex?  The simplicity of rhythm and rhyme will be welcome: Be curious not furious when you encounter hostility in a meeting.  Whichever device you deploy, a synoptic affirmation of your key points prepares your audience perfectly to hear your illustrations, elaborations and substantiations in the development of the points you make.

My fellow orators, when we convert our main points into phrases our audiences can quote, we benefit as well.  We internalize our lines faster and easier so we rely less, if at all, on notes at the podium.   These boost our confidence in our messaging and presentation skills.  Recall how extemporaneously without notes and assuredly the following were delivered as you finish these indelible and synoptic phrases yourself:

” My fellow Americans, ask not what you country can do for you, ask  …”

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one  …”

“Give me liberty or  …”

I wish you each a season of speaking that promotes your ideas, analyses, businesses and books to your personal best and with maximum benefit to our society.   Viva voce!

A professional speaker and communications coach for over 25 years, Lisa Bernard now offers master classes in Audience AnalysisPreparing and Conducting a Professional Q&A Session, and Extemporaneous Public Speaking.  She is currently President of Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a speakers bureau devoted to her passion – the intersection of oratory and international affairs.  Her experts address audiences on matters of cyber, national and global security matters.  This follows her 20 year tenure as President of Word of Mouth, Inc. a full-service communications firm based in Westport, CT, that provided speech-writing, accent modification, interview prep, media training and customized seminar services in listening skills, meeting management and public speaking to clients worldwide.  Lisa began her communications career with the founding of Foreign Affairs Speakers Bureau in 1989 in New York City.  She is the author of a series of affordable and self-help guidebooks called NOTES from the PODIUM and still devotes one day a week to teaching at the college level in her hometown of Queens, NY.  She can be reached at (203) 293-4741 or at   Like her firm on Facebook at   Learn more about her work at and access her expertise at and via her blog, Security Briefs at