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Connie Dieken Headshot

How to Prevent Brain Freeze in Public Speaking

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RICK PERRY OOPS MOMENT MORNING SHOWS
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It was the silence heard around the world: Rick Perry's brain freeze. Perry's mental cramp during the GOP presidential debate stole the show and was quickly hailed as one of the worst memory meltdowns in history. It was a cringe-inducing 43 seconds as Perry scrambled to recall the name of the third federal agency he'd shut down, to no avail.

I'm not focusing on politics here. My interest is in you as an influential presenter and how you can prevent your own case of message meltdown. After more than a decade as an executive speech coach, I'm convinced that brain freeze in public speaking is completely preventable, no matter how nervous you are. Many people's fear of public speaking hinges on this issue, so I'd like to share three strategies to conquer it. (With a respectful wink and nod to Governor Perry, let's hope I don't forget the third.)

What's at stake for a leader when an episode of brain freeze strikes? Your credibility can disappear with your memory. Your confidence can take a profound, life-altering beating. In addition, brain freeze can either 1) create an unfavorable first impression of you, or 2) cement an unfavorable view that others already have of you.

Here are three tips to help prevent you from drawing a blank when delivering a message:

1. Believe your message deeply.

Your brain's frontal lobe is sensitive to anxiety. Psychologists say stress hormones can temporarily block your frontal lobe from the rest of your brain. You're frantically searching for a word, but like a computer file that's locked, your brain is blocking access to it. The solution? Don't rely solely on your brain to deliver a message when the stakes are high. Believe it deeply. A speech or presentation is a transfer of emotion. Tap into your message both intellectually and emotionally. When you deliver from the heart, you free yourself from any susceptibility to anxiety scrambling your brain.

2. Beware of adding new information too close to delivery.

Brand spanking new information leaves you vulnerable to drawing a blank. You haven't fully processed and internalized new information yet. You might as well send a party invitation to your brain inviting message meltdown when you add new information on the fly. But Connie, you ask, what if my boss gives me last-minute information that I have to include? What if I learn something at the last minute that's important? Of course, you should add this type of information to your presentation. But here's the antidote: write that information down and keep it right in front of you. Prominently. During Perry's meltdown, he frantically searched his notes but couldn't come up with that third agency. Perhaps it was buried in his notes. Perhaps he was off-point. I don't know. But I do know that a prominently displayed, bulleted list would have saved Perry from this public humiliation. So save yourself. If you have new, unprocessed information to share, keep it written prominently in front of you. Think of it as an insurance policy.

3. Deliver boldly.

Do you fear criticism? Does the concern that someone will take a shot at you linger in the back of your mind during delivery? This is pure poison. The good news is that it's self-induced, which means you have control over it. Confidence is the expectation of a positive outcome in a specific situation. Breathe deeply, visualize a positive outcome and let go of the fear. Forget perfection; think excellence. Don't morph into your boring, evil twin in front of an audience.

The only true metric of public speaking is the audience's response. Embrace your opportunity to move people to action. Use these three tips and you'll replace brain freeze with liquid gold for your audience -- and yourself.