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What happens if I forget my lines when I’m public speaking?

Ginger Leadership Communications

Public Speakers often focus on needing to remember every single thing they’ve written down in great detail. Then they find themselves panicking thinking, “What if I forget my lines?”  There are a couple of ways to handle ‘forgetting your lines’, but the general message from public speaking expert Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is, “Don’t worry!”…

With most public speaking, it’s not so important the words that you say, what’s important is the way that you say them. 

First off, I’d encourage you to allow your worries to pass about your bad memory, or forgetting your ‘lines’ when you public speak – and focus on the delivery, the heart, and the feeling you put behind your words. There will be some key messages, key stories, key facts and figures you may want to get across when you are public speaking. But every single word you say in between those doesn’t need to be perfect. Focusing on ‘getting your lines perfect’ can just make our public speaking seem stilted and nervy.

In fact, what’s more perfect, what’s more effective for your audience, is if you speak in a way that’s natural and is connective to the audience.

Memory Technique 1: Live Your Story

To help your memory in public speaking, think of yourself as a storyteller who’s going from one party of a story to the next. If you live the story as you tell it, you will be much less likely to forget it – because it’s something you’ve experienced. We can only forget what we’ve ‘learned’! You never forget how you met your partner, or the first time you went to India (or whatever). Memory works best when you speak from within your experience.

Memory Technique 2: Bullets, not notes

Instead of learning your lines, or reading from pages of notes, try a simple memory aid for your public speaking. Condense your speech content down into bullet point that you can make sense of quickly if you lose your place. There’s no way four pages of notes will help you if you go blank – but a simple page of bullet points will be accessible at a glance.

The process of condensing a speech or talk down into bullet points will also help you to internalise the content you’re trying to get across.

Memory Technique 3: Pretend it’s like a conversation

Think of it like when you’re speaking to a friend in a conversation and you go blank – it doesn’t really matter, does it? You can go around, you can find something different to say and then you can return to the point when you remember it.

It doesn’t matter in the conversation that you have forgotten your chain of thought, so don’t let it matter so much in your public speaking.

Memory Technique 4: Reduce the pressure

As soon as you go blank in public speaking, the common response is to place extra pressure and extra thoughts into your mind that say, “Gosh you’ve not only forgotten your lines but you’re an idiot for forgetting your lines.”  

That can cause a spiral of panicked negativity which stops you from being relaxed and makes you less likely to recover and find your words.

In order to engage brain and speak in a way that is powerful, you need to feel relaxed and confident. So the best way to remember your lines is to be relaxed and to remember that your audience don’t care about precise words, or 100% perfection.

Nobody else knows what your plan is as a speaker, no one else has a script of your words that they’re testing you against. So when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if you stick to your script or not… your audience will never know!

If you’re eager to learn more memory techniques, you can also listen to memory master, Mark Channon’s webinar with me, available from the webinar archive:

Mark Channon’s “How to Never Need Notes Again” (60 min webinar)

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