One of the reasons that most human beings would rather die than stand up and speak in public is the fear of a brain freeze – that moment when your mind goes blank and your audience is staring at you, and you’re staring back at them and you think, “This is worse than a root canal!”

The truth is, even the most seasoned and skillful speaker experiences a mental speed bump now and then. That’s all it has to be.  You can come out of it with flying colors.  Just a few simple tricks in your toolbox will get you out of the jam and onto your next important point – without the use of Novocain!

Let’s look at a recent example for what to do and what not to do. Arizona Acting Governor Jan Brewer recently had a brain freeze in the first gubernatorial debate:

Clearly this was a moment wrought with potential disaster given that the stakes were so high.  And painful as it is to watch (especially the forced smile), she did a few things right.

Be silent for a moment – embrace the pause and use if for effect. Don’t fill it with empty words like “um” and “ah.”

Think of your previous sentence. Was there anything in there you can repeat until your brain snaps to attention?

Start talking. Even though Governor Brewer did not say anything substantive, at least she got the ball rolling again.  Most audiences will forgive you this one blip in an otherwise engaging speech.

And even though this next tip may not have helped in a televised debate, it works beautifully for all other venues:

Involve your audience. One of my coaching clients used this trick in a speech last month. He got stuck on the name of the BP Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon.”  Instead of just standing there with a blank stare, or looking up at the ceiling as if the name was typed on the ceiling tiles, he asked his audience. They were only too happy to help and he got right back in the dance without missing a step.

So Relax.  Release. Relate.  You’ll be fine.

–  Barbara Roche