Has this ever happened to you? You have an important presentation and you’ve done all your preparation. You don’t want to memorize the talk, but you also want to have a clear sense of what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. The morning of the talk you practice it in the shower and you’re really pleased with how it sounds. Then you get to the presentation and your mind goes blank. You can’t remember any of the beautifully crafted words that you had prepared earlier!
Something similar happened to me recently in writing an important email. I had an elaborate and rather complicated email which I had beautifully crafted in my mind while swimming laps for exercise. But when I sat down to actually write the email several hours later, I couldn’t remember a word of what I’d crafted in my mind.
I struggled for a while trying to recapture it, and then had to let it go and start from scratch by deciding to be real, direct and simple in my communication. In the long run, what I actually wrote was far better than what I had planned to write.
A couple of things stand out for me in this experience. The first is that when we get very attached to saying things a certain way, we actually create the conditions for forgetting what we have to say. Several years ago I wrote an article that considers the problems with memorizing what we plan to say.
The other thing that I learned most specifically from this writing experience is that we are at our best when we allow ourselves to be real, simple and direct. So often, in coaching clients, I have to help them simplify their message. People tend to want to share everything they know and they cram way too much information into the short time they have to speak. They also think they need to be perfect and professional in their delivery, and so put on a persona and are not themselves.
My question to them always is, What’s the key message you want your audience to leave with? And, very simply, what are the key points that will help them understand that message? My coaching with them is then focused on how to convey that message in the simplest and most direct way possible. And, to just be themselves when they do the presentation.
The beauty of this approach is that whenever you find that you’ve forgotten what you were going to say, you can bring yourself back very quickly to the purpose of the talk by reminding yourself (and maybe your audience) of your primary message and remembering the simple key points that you wanted to be sure cover.