What To Do If You Forget Your Lines On Stage

Author: Ian

Date: October 11, 2015

It happens to the best of people. No matter how much time and effort you’ve put in to learning your speech, when you’re on stage looking out into a crowd of hundreds of patient people, your mind can just go blank. You freeze, not knowing what to do and hoping with the click of your fingers, you can magically disappear.

We don’t have a magic wand that can make you disappear, but we do have some great tips and advice on how to manage a situation like this, so your audience don’t even notice and you can just carry on enjoying the speech.

First off, let’s talk about how you can prevent forgetting your lines in the first place with these memory techniques…

Remembering Your Lines

remember your lines

It’s much easier to remember things you care about. You don’t forget a special day, do you? But you do forget insignificant things, like what to pick up at the supermarket. This is because your mind isn’t interested. So, when it comes to writing your speech, this is where the memory begins. You have to write about a subject you can get excited about and know plenty of.

Once you’ve written the entire speech and are happy with how it flows and its qualities, read aloud the first 2 sentences, and then try it without the paper in front of you. At this point, it’s trial and error. But don’t be so hard on yourself; you won’t always remember everything word for word – if you did, your speech may sound too rehearsed and rigid.

Once you’re comfortable with the opening sentences, move on to the next two sentences and continue using this same process. Be sure to take regular breaks, because you may remember it all in one night, but then forget it all the next day. It’s much easier for your brain to process new information if you’re not tired and if you ‘revise’ in small sections.

Did you know it’s actually easy to remember lines if you hand write them rather than typing them up on a computer? There’s something about physically connecting your brain to paper that sparks creativity and means you’re more receptive to remembering. Typing up on a computer becomes lifeless.

After you’ve spent a few days to a week rehearsing through your speech, take another piece of paper and write down bullet points of key parts – the things you can’t afford you neglect. Keep these refined and non-specific. Now the goal is to never refer to the original full script, because you won’t have that on stage, so you shouldn’t be using that to read off of now.

At the event, you’re allowed key notes to help you if your mind goes blank, and you should only use key words and images to spark your memory. For example, if your next line is talking about, let’s say, global warming, draw a picture of the globe on your cards. It’s scientifically proven that images help us remember rather than words, and it takes less time to look at a sketch and your brain to digest it, than it does to read two words.

What To Do If You Forget What’s Next

remember your lines

It’s best to use the techniques mentioned above to prevent you from forgetting, rather than having to deal with what you do if it happens. But nerves and adrenaline can affect your performance and memory, no matter how many times you go over your speech.

Just remember that when you’re in that moment and silence floods the room, that everything will be okay. If you start to tell yourself that you’re useless, you will panic and this will just make you worse. Take the pressure off of yourself by taking a deep breath and just relax. Drop your shoulders and don’t allow fear to kick in.

Connect your brain and speech again by stopping for a second and thinking about what you just last said. Your audience won’t know what’s coming, so it doesn’t matter if your words aren’t precise, all that matters is that you remain calm and keep going. If thinking of the line before still doesn’t help, then perhaps you could ask the audience if they have any questions so far, or anything they’d like you to touch on.

Doing so can introduce a new topic and give you scope for ideas to talk about. If you’re passionate about your speech and you believe in yourself enough to know that you deserve that spot on stage, then you’ll be fine. Tell your speech with emotion and like it’s a story because that will help you to flow more. Anything that causes you to become distracted, such as looking at people in the audience or using presentation slides, should be avoided as you need pure concentration.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t know what’s coming and if all else fails recap on some important points you’ve already raised and develop them further (without repeating yourself) to look for new content ideas. Physical movement whilst you ponder on what’s next doesn’t make it so obvious that the inevitable has happened and it helps to draw you back in. Keep talking whilst you’re moving so your brain can register the next line.  The worst thing you can do is to panic and stand still, looking into the audience and hoping you’ll find some inspiration from somewhere.

So to recap, don’t panic, take a breath and don’t be so hard yourself. You’re a confident speaker who has huge potential and everyone wants to hear your story. Enjoy what you’re talking about, and even if you do forget a line, you can make something up on the spot because you’re in to the subject. The best of luck!