On a recent Sunday, the pastor at my local church was, in typical fashion, delivering her sermon with no notes. I don’t think she memorizes word for word, but she certainly has the key ideas and general flow of her message committed to memory. As she was getting to the conclusion of her sermon, the pastor froze and completely lost her train of thought. Here are the steps in her successfully recovery:
- Don’t panic
When her mind went blank, the pastor didn’t panic. Her face did not read nervous, embarrassed, or frustrated. Instead, her expression conveyed in a calm, observational way, “Huh, I can’t remember what comes next.”
- Pause and try to think of the next point
Then, the pastor gave herself a moment to try to recall her thought and get back on track. She glanced up, but not in a desperate or frantic way. After a second or two, she realized that the thought wasn’t coming any time soon.
- Refer to your notes
Without shame or exasperation, the pastor walked from the middle of her speaking area to the side where she had placed her notes on a lectern in the event that she needed them. In a matter-of-fact way, she calmly looked through her notes to find the next element in her sermon. She accomplished this without apologizing or vocalizing any junk words (such as “um” or “ah”) that conveyed discomfort.
- Return to the presentation as if nothing happened
After she found and started explaining her next point, the pastor continued her story as she walked back to the center of the speaking area. She again did not acknowledge the hiccup and continued on confidently. Because she didn’t make a big deal of it, nobody listening did either.
- Don’t let it throw off the rest of your presentation
The pastor finished her sermon, which was a memorable message about being grateful for the blessings we have, with the same confident delivery that characterized the sermon before her freeze. She didn’t stay over by the lectern and rely on her notes. She didn’t rush through the end of her sermon or cut it short. And, most importantly, she didn’t let one memory lapse prevent her from sharing an important message with her listeners.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t recall your next point, remember, like my pastor, that freezing is only a big deal if you make it one. A hiccup in a presentation doesn’t at all mean that it is doomed – not at all. Simply take a look at your notes to find your next idea. Then, continue sharing your compelling message in a confident way and you’ll still earn accolades from your audience.