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What Happens When You Forget What You Wanted To Say?

Introduction by Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications

There are many reasons to be fearful of speaking in public.  If you’re reading this, you don’t need that list.  You already know it by heart.  I used to be one of those people, scared to death of getting up in front of a group, saying the wrong thing, looking silly, stammering.   In my early 20’s, on the rare occasion I’d give it a try – and my heart would beat so hard and fast I was positive that everyone within 10 feet of me could see my shirt moving up and down.  My hands would shake and the sweat poured off me like I was standing in front of a blast furnace.

Sound familiar?

But I knew I had to overcome this.  I knew it was holding back the civic and charity work I wanted to do, let alone my career.  So I literally forced myself to overcome the terror and speak in public.  Over time, it got a bit better.  Practice may not make perfect, but it does move the ball forward.

And then, when I was in my late 20’s, maybe early 30’s, I read an article (in The New Yorker, I think) about the rampant use of Inderal by concert musicians who were using this medication to cure pre-show jitters and by golfers to help cure something called the “yips.”  I didn’t consult the internet (actually, it hadn’t been invented yet), but after a little research in the library plus a face-to-face with my doctor, I learned that Inderal indeed approved to treat something called “performance anxiety.”  Neither a sedative, mind or mood-altering drug or a performance enhancer, Inderal does just one thing:  it stops your heart from going into overdrive, kind of like a governor placed on a motor engine that physically stops the engine from going over a certain number of revolutions per minute.  And best of all, the generic version, propranolol, cost something like five bucks for 50.  For me, it was a game-changer.

I think I used propranolol for maybe five or six years.  Twenty minutes before speaking, I’d take just one pill and be able to speak with nary a sweaty tremor or shake.  Over the next few years I weaned myself from the medication completely, though I continued to keep a small supply on-hand as an insurance policy that never got used  – and it’s been more than 20 years since I last even gave it a thought.

There are many methods for overcoming stage fright.  Deep breathing, self-hypnosis and, of course, practice, practice, practice.  For some, Inderal is (or should be) another tool, but always with the understanding that it’s a heart medication, never be used except under the guidance of a physician familiar with your health.

But my story isn’t over yet.  For the last 10 years, a good portion of my income has come from being able to get up in front of an audience.  From talking to just a few clients in a board room or a group of law students in a classroom to standing on a stage, wireless mic on my lapel and a 30-foot version of myself on the two giant screens behind me in front of 5000 people.

Still, there are challenges.  Every so often, I’ll forget a few lines.  One time, I was 60 seconds into telling a story when I realized it was the wrong story.  Rather than continuing, I did a quick, “Ooops, wrong story” and then started the correct one without missing a beat.  And by the time that seminar was over, I’m sure no one remembered it happened.

But once, perhaps five years ago, at a business conference in front of 30 executives capable of making referrals to my firm, the absolute worst happened.  I blanked.  In the middle of the presentation, I totally blanked.  I didn’t panic, get the shakes or break out into a sweat.  I kept my cool…but the words weren’t there.  I shuffled through a few notes, I stayed calm while I tried to mentally retrace my remarks…but I was simply blank.  Thankfully, one of the executives around the table finally put me out of my misery with a quick “Well, let’s not worry about that” and one of my colleagues then took the podium with his portion of the presentation.  All I can tell you, dear reader, is that the only thing you can do when something like that happens is to hold your head high, do your best to not think negative thoughts, to keep in mind that while you may have had 30 people in that audience, 29 of them likely won’t give your brain freeze a second thought and to take the advice of every silver screen cowboy that I watched growing up in the 50’s and 60’s by getting back on that horse.  And that’s what I did, doing everything to book as many speaking engagements as possible.  Since then, my career as a speaker, teacher and keynoter has continued to flourish, even through the COVID interruption.

I can’t tell you that I’m fearless, but I did change one thing.  No, I don’t have a secret stash of Inderal in my briefcase, but I do keep a barebones outline of my remarks at the ready, just in case.  And I didn’t need a doctor’s prescription for that.

Frankly, I hadn’t given much thought to any of the above in quite a while, but those memories did come roaring back to me last week when I read an article on this subject on a blog called The Accidental Communicator, which you can read below.


What Happens When You Forget What You Wanted To Say? 

By Dr. Jim Anderson

What’s the worst thing that can happen to you as a speaker? Having the audience get up and leave during your speech would certainly be a bad thing, but since there is very little chance of that actually happening perhaps we should focus on things that are more likely to happen to you. Like completely forgetting your speech as you stand there on the stage. That can happen to anyone at any time. If it happens to you, what should you do?

Why Do We Forget What We Want To Say?

Before we deal with how to work through forgetting what we want to say, perhaps we should first spend a few minutes talking about just exactly how we find ourselves in a situation like this. What can make that speech that we have worked so hard on flee our brains?

For the rest of Dr. Anderson’s piece, click here.



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