Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator


What To Do When Your Mind Goes Blank

Picture this: you've practiced your story hundreds of times and know it backwards and forwards. You know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. You know what facial expressions and body movements you want to use. You are ready to tell your story to an audience.

Now you're standing in front of a group of people. You scan their faces and make eye contact. Everyone is looking at you, and is ready to hear your story. So you begin. Your telling flows smoothly, and you're proud of yourself. You're doing everything "right" - good inflections, movements and facial expressions are on target, pacing is right, as is your volume level, and you continue to make eye contact. For a quick moment, you think "Wow! This is awesome - I've got them in the palm of my hand. They're really into this story." And just that fast, you've lost your focus and your mind goes blank!

You panic! Your throat tightens, and your muscles become tense. You pant -breathing rapidly - because it's hard to breathe. You try to speak, but nothing comes out!

What do you do?

  • First of all, get out of this panic state! Unlock the tension that has built up in you by taking a few deep breaths - slowly inhale through your nose, and slowly exhale the air through pursed lips. As you're breathing, think about where you are in the story - what was the last thing you remember saying? This may seem like it's taking an eternity, but it's really just a minute or so.
  • And, as you're breathing, you can scan your audience - they'll think its part of your performance - like using the "pause for effect" technique.
  • Then, start talking - paraphrase what you've already said, making it sound like what you're saying is part of your telling. For instance, you can say, "Yes indeed, when the boy fell down, he was not only hurt, but very embarrassed. Like I said before..." and go on with your story.
  • Ad lib (make things up that will fit into your story) - if you've really practiced your story, you'll know the sequence, and should be able to quickly get back on track.
  • You can also give a brief summary of your story up to this point. Your audience will think its part of your telling, and probably appreciate the overview!

Sometimes though, when you do get back on track, you suddenly realize you left out something important to the story. Now you need to readjust. Instead of saying, "Whoops, I forgot something," and apologizing, be confident and say, "Something you need to know is...", or "I didn't tell you before, but...", or "Now did I tell you that..." There are other bridges you can use to get over the gap, and it's a good idea to have a few of them ready - just in case!

The best of storytellers have at one time or another drawn a blank. A disturbance or distraction in the audience (murmuring or talking), or from outside (ambulance or fire sirens), could easily make the storyteller "forget" where he was. But with good strategies and presence of mind, the teller can pick up the pieces and keep the story going.

If, however, after deep breathing and relaxing, paraphrasing, ad libbing, and making adjustments, you still can't remember what to say, and it appears to be completely hopeless, be honest with your audience. Admit that your mind has gone blank, but if they'll bear with you, you'll back up and try to recover. You can even ask your audience if they remember where you were in the story. If they were listening (and they probably were) they'll be able to tell you, and you can pick up your story from there.

Whatever you do that helps you move your story forward, stay focused so this won't happen again! And at the end of the story, be sure to thank the audience for their help and patience. They'll appreciate your recognition, and be ready to listen to you again!

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