Imagine standing on stage in front of a room full of 1000 middle school students. There they sit squirming, laughing, and poking their neighbor. You look in the back of the room to see the countdown clock ticking down and 50 adults staring at you waiting to see if you will sink or swim. The next few minutes are crucial, you have prepared your presentation, created your slides, and practiced for what seems like hours. You go to speak and all of a sudden everything you have practiced is gone. Your mind is blank, and your worst nightmare is becoming a reality.

This scenario, was once my reality, and what I learned in that moment forever shaped my presentation career. Because when your mind goes blank and you are unsure what to say next, it’s time to improvise.

Improvisation can be one of the most useful tools in a presenters tool belt. It not only allows you to recover in the midst of a brain blank, but it also allows you to adapt on the fly when your audience throws you a curve ball. Here are 3 tools I learned that day that helped me not only survive but thrive as I improvised.

Breathe – Take a minute.
This may seem silly but when it comes to adapting on the fly it is vital that you start by taking time to breathe. When we find ourselves in a tense situation our body naturally responds in one of three ways fight, flight, or freeze. According to psychology today our body is hardwired to respond to stressful situations naturally. If you assess the situation to be something you can handle you respond with fight, if you assess the situation to be something that will over power you your response is to flight, and when you assess that a situation is hopeless and that no matter what you do your response will be futile the natural response is to freeze in essence accepting your fate.

However here is where breathing comes in. When you take a minute to breathe and collect your thoughts you are much more in control of your response rather than allowing your human nature to kick in. This allows you to harness your natural reaction and choose what you will do next. This does not need to be a long drawn out pause, instead a quick minute where you quiet the noise and gather your thoughts. Sometimes as little as a 2 second pause can be all you need to set yourself up for success.

Read the Room.
It is easy when on stage to get tunnel vision where we become so focused on one point in the room or one person that they become all we can see. As this happens we lose sight of what is going on around us and what our audience is doing. As a presenter with nearly a decade of experience speaking to audiences of all ages I know the importance of reading a room rather than zeroing in. When we are improvising this becomes even more vital. Look at your audience, see how they react to each word you say pay attention to their eye contact, body language, and general demeanor. This will give you real time feedback on if your content is hitting the mark or missing all together, which leads us to our next point.

Trust your gut and be flexible.
Here is what I have seen time and time again in my presentations. If I put in the time to practice and learn my content it will come back to me even if my mind is blank. It may not feel like it but trust me the same is true for you. However, you have to be flexible, improvising is all about rolling with the punches and trusting your instinct. If you miss a section of your content it’s ok, don’t get flustered instead look for a way to loop it back in later in the presentation.

Structure is vital, in fact research shows that audiences found structured content 40% easier to understand than freeform information. However, in the midst of an improv situation structure must shift and move with the presenter.

Standing on that stage in front of 1000 middle school students will forever be burned into my memory. But by implementing these three tools I was able to deliver a powerful presentation that resulted in an invite back the following year. Whether you are speaking to preschoolers or adults these three tools apply and will help you get out of the tightest binds.

If you are interested in more powerful tools to improve your presentation skills check out our presentation mentor online course today or comment below and one of our team would love to help you connect to all of our Ethos3 resources.


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