Ever draw a blank while giving a talk?

Of course you have. Who hasn't?

Fear not. Help is on the way. In fact organizational behavior lecturer and presentations consultant Matt Abrahams recently offered three tips on the subject on the Stanford GSB site.

I reached out to Abrahams so he could elaborate on his public-speaking advice. Here, again, are his three tips for a graceful recovery, plus some extra guidance he shared for nailing a presentation of any kind.

1. Paraphrase what you just said. Say something like, "So just to step back for a moment, I've already covered how X and Y are relevant." This gives you a moment to remember point Z--and to frame it as a point you're building toward.

Of course, properly paraphrasing is an art unto itself. Abrahams' pointers for paraphrasing include: 

  • Use verbal cues to help your audience recognize that you're paraphrasing. For example: "The bottom line is..." or "What's important to remember is..." or "Your key takeaway should be...."
  • Save the paraphrase for a transitional moment in the presentation, such as between key slides or salient points. You might say something like, "Now that we understand the market opportunity, let's explore our offering."
  • Select a keyword or phrase from what you've just said to begin the paraphrase. If you just detailed the changes your organization needs to go through, you can begin your paraphrase with something like, "Change management...."

2. Ask your audience a question. It can even be a rhetorical one. For example, "What seems to be the most important point so far?" A question allows you to collect your thoughts, and boosts your confidence because you know the answer. Providing that answer will likely get you back into the flow of your talk.

Other questions that work well include:

  • "How does what we just covered affect you or your work?"
  • "In what I just presented, what excites or concerns you?"
  • "Can you share an example that illustrates what I just discussed?"

3. Review your overall speaking purpose. Your go-to phrase, for this purpose, should be something like, "So we can see that [insert your core message here] is really important." When you're struggling to remember your place, this tactic can act like a homepage of sorts, helping you return to the essential importance of your message.

The main point, Abrahams emphasizes, is not to be too hard on yourself if you draw a blank. It happens to everyone--even seasoned professionals, like politicians. Your audience is more forgiving than you think it is. "Some may actually be thankful for the pause," he writes, "because it allows them time to process what you've presented."