Use a back pocket question to overcome being blocked

Overcome being blocked

Use a back pocket question to overcome being blocked

One of the biggest fears people have around presenting and public speaking is forgetting what to say – getting blocked. But it is possible to overcome being blocked.

In other posts, we’ve talked about developing a constructive mind-set to prevent you from getting blocked in the first place. We’ve also talked about staying present and in the moment, so you reduce your self-consciousness and subsequently, the probability of your mind going blank.

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In this post, I want to give you a simple strategy to use which will keep you moving forward in your presentation even though you’ve lost your way with the content you’ve prepared.

The strategy is to have a ‘back pocket’ question prepared.

This is a question that is totally related to your topic but is generic enough that you can ask it at any time. You would plan the questions before your presentation and have them noted down, so you can easily view them and use them in those moments when you’ve lost your way.

Let’s imagine you’re giving a presentation about different training options available to train employees in a new system, and your mind suddenly goes blank. You can say: “Let me just pause here to ask, from your experience, what type of training do you believe to be the most effective?”. Your audience will be immediately engaged, and asking the question also buys you time to get yourself back on track with your presentation content.

Having a ‘back pocket’ question also comes in useful in the Q & A section of a presentation. It may be that you don’t get any questions immediately when you ask for them; people may be shy or simply don’t want to go ‘first’. You can kick-start the Q&A by asking a question yourself. You can say something like, ‘a question I often get asked is…’. Or ‘you may be wondering…’ and then you pose your question. One thing here, make sure you know the answer to your questions!

In addition to helping you move through getting blocked and taking the attention away from yourself, having some back pocket questions prepared is a great way to get interaction from your audience and discover more about their perspectives and opinions. Stay present as you listen to their answers, so you can more easily engage with your audience and logically follow the flow of the dialogue. Then move back to where you left off in your presentation to continue.

This post was inspired by Matt Abrahams, coach and educator at Stanford University. You can learn more about using back pocket questions from Matt himself in this video.

If the fear of getting blocked is an issue for you, I’d like to help you overcome it. Click here to arrange a free call to chat about it.


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My mission is to help employees in multinational companies learn the skills and techniques they need to give outstanding presentations in English and receive the visibility and recognition they deserve.

feel confident and engage with your audience Janice Haywood