My clients sometimes report that — although they felt ready to give a talk or speak up in a meeting — when the time came, their minds went blank.
This is what they experienced. And yet, anyone who’s ever tried to meditate knows that there’s no such thing as a truly blank mind. There’s always something going on in our heads.
So I’ll ask my clients,
OK, you felt like your mind was blank. But was there actually a thought that went along with that feeling?
Absolutely not, people tell me.
They weren’t thinking anything.
Their minds were COMPLETELY BLANK.
When “Your Mind Goes Blank,” You’re Probably Having an Uncomfortable Thought
My theory is that your “blank mind” is actually blanketing a thought that’s too uncomfortable or unpleasant to be acknowledged. So I give my clients a challenge like this one:
I’m going to share some things that you might have been thinking when your mind went blank, and you tell me if any of them sound familiar.
Here are some of the thoughts I suggest:
- “The minute I open my mouth, everyone’s going to know that I’m a total phony.” [This is called imposter syndrome. It’s a real thing, and tons of people experience it.]
- “Other people know more about this topic than I do, so I’m not the best person to talk about it.“
- “The talk I’m about to give will be a complete failure, and I’ll never live down the humiliation.”
- “I should be able to do this [give a talk or make a comment], but I’m really nervous so there must be something wrong with me.”
- “Whether I give a good talk or not, everyone will hate me for showing off,” etc.
And here’s what happens:
People who, just moments earlier were positive that they had no thought can easily pick the thought they were having out of this line-up of possibilities.
That’s because self-critical thoughts are always hovering near the surface.
It’s just that, sometimes, we don’t hear them.
It’s Hard to Fight a “Blank Mind” (Tip: Try Breathing Out), But Easy to Push Back On Inaccurate Thoughts
Why is it worth unmasking the “blanked out” thought?
Because that’s what’s messing up your public speaking!
When your mind goes blank, it’s like being stuck in a room with no doors and no windows; there’s no obvious way out. But when your enemy is a negative thought, the way out is to reject what you’re thinking!
You can do this in lots of ways. Try:
- Reassuring self-talk (“I’m very qualified to discuss this topic”);
- Focusing on something besides yourself (“My team is counting on me to deliver this update, and I’m not going to let them down”);
- Connecting to your audience (“These people look friendly, and it’s going to be OK”);
- Using meditation, yoga, or calming breaths to center yourself;
- Screaming at the nasty little voice in your head (I’ve done this); and
- “Just” ignoring it, as discussed in this post about how fear of public speaking is like having (or can be triggered by) a fractured foot!
Whatever method of combat you choose (and there are more suggestions in the You May Also Want to Read… section, below), remember that you can fight back against inaccurate, negative thoughts, and go on to give a great talk.
And if, someday, your mind goes blank, be assured that a negative thought is lurking below that blank surface.
Dig out that thought, kick it to the curb, and go on to enjoy your public speaking success!