Many speakers dread it but ultimately very few have experienced it: a memory lapse! It often happens that we can’t find a word for something we know. This feeling of not being able to connect to the information in our brain is generally very frustrating. But when we’re facing an audience and suddenly have the feeling that the light has gone out, that the thread is lost, it’s extremely unsettling.
Generally memory lapse is produced by a distraction. The practice of public speaking requires building our arguments while paying close attention to what is happening around the room. Sometimes, this attention requires activating a zone in the brain that is already solicited. This is called cognitive competition and it considerably alters our brain capacity. Forcing ourselves to find our words often simply adds to the confusion
When this happens, the memory we’re using to control the speech has not been deleted. It has simply been set aside to handle something else and been misplaced. The fear of being in trouble in front of the audience strongly accentuates this phenomenon, especially by altering our self-image and increasing our fear of what others think. And yet, the most effective way to regain our composure is precisely to empty the mind and allow our memory to work and reorganize. Turn your gaze to your notes, or to a working document related to your speaking engagement and in most cases, the connection will be made quickly, as if the lights have been turned on again and the thread of your thoughts is back as if it had never been lost.
More generally, you must be prepared to accept that a memory lapse is completely independent of you, your preparation or your expertise. You have no reason to question yourself or feel responsible. On the contrary, force yourself to be the spectator of the situation, to explore this rare feeling of suddenly being totally disconnected from your thoughts and words. This sensory exploration is the best way to recover quickly. The more you add more thoughts, like: “I suck, they’re going to make fun of me, it’ll never come back,” you’re adding more information to an already saturated system.
Finally, a gift for those who have trouble de-dramatizing and who were not in front of their TV sets on December 31,1970, watch how Francis Blanche gère sur scène une panne de mémoire (Francis Blanche handles memory lapse on stage), and created an unforgettable moment of humor and complicity.