It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we don’t know anymore what to say. We forgot how to continue the story. So what to do when you forget your story in front of a big audience?
When you forget what to tell next, the best thing you can do is to pause. Don’t panic. The words are there. Don’t tell your listeners you have forgotten your story, but give yourself some time to get back on track. Walk, drink, pause. And go back in your mind to the red thread of your story.
That’s it, in short. However, from my own experience and coaching others, I know that it’s a bit more tricky than that. So let me walk you through and give you eight tips that will be useful when it happens to you.
What to do when you forget your story?
Tip 1: Don’t panic: the words are there
These three facts might help you:
- You prepared the story. It’s not really lost. It’s right in your head.
- Forgetting your story happens to the best storytellers. At the most inconvenient moments. You are not special, this is a normal experience.
- It’s temporary. Soon you will be able to continue your telling.
It’s probably stress and fear that make you forget how to continue your telling. Perhaps it’s a new story. Perhaps it means a lot to you. Perhaps it’s all those people looking at you.
Don’t add to the stress by imagining the worst.
Tip 2: Don’t tell your listeners and they will not know
They are all looking at you, wishing to have a good time and enjoying your story. But, remember, the listeners are on your side.
As long as you do not tell them that you are lost in the woods, they will not know.
When you tell them, it takes them out of the story and puts their attention on you. That’s generally not what you want. So avoid telling them that you have forgotten how to go on unless it is blatantly obvious.
Tip 3: Pause and take a deep breath
Take a pause—a long one.
It might feel like you are pausing for eternity, but in reality, it might just be two seconds.
Take a deep breath into your belly. It will calm you, give you oxygen, and center you.
Such a pause will be enough to remember your story most of the time.
Tip 4: Create time for yourself to think
Don’t fill this time with words.
How can you create some more time for yourself to think?
First, by moving to another place. If it’s possible, slowly walk a few steps.
Second, by drinking a sip of water (or something more substantial).
Nobody will think twice about both these actions, but they will give you time to go back to the red thread of your story.
Tip 5: Go back to the red thread of your story
I hope you have not memorized your story word by word. In courses, I always tell students: “You can’t forget the text when there is no text.”
I hope you have prepared your story by looking at the structure and imagining the scenes. You know the red thread of your story.
So go back in your mind to the last scene you remember telling.
Tip 6: Restart 10 seconds earlier
When you watch a video on Netflix, there is a convenient button to rewind for 10 seconds. Perfect for when you missed something.
After you have found the last scene you remember telling, continue telling some more about this scene. Give your listeners more details about what is seen, felt, and heard.
Most of the time, this will bring you back to the story and bring the story back to you.
Tip 7: Ask your audience for help
When all else fails, it is time to tell your audience that you have forgotten a bit of the story. Don’t make it a big thing. And after that, ask for their help to get back on track.
I suggest one of these ways:
- What do you think will happen next?
- What was the last thing I was telling you?
Give them some time to answer. Remember, until ten seconds ago, they still were coming along with you.
Enjoy receiving their answers. Take the time. Laugh a little about yourself.
And continue your story. Usually, nobody will bother.
Tip 8: Don’t feel bad about yourself
You survived. You even got some applause afterward, yes?
Now you get to make a choice.
You can stop telling your stories because you are scared to stand in front of a group of listeners again.
You can accept that you have just had an unpleasant but valuable experience. You forgot your story, but life continued. It was not so bad as you had imagined it to be. You are glad that this does not happen often, but you are also confident that you know what to do whenever it happens.
Enjoy your next story! 🙂
💡 You might also want to check out these Oral Storytelling Tips or Beginners.
💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.