How to stop worrying about forgetting what you want to say

Do you have a fear of missing out something critical from your presentation? This concern can sabotage your presentation in three ways:

  1. To alleviate your concern you put everything you want to say on your slides
  2. You write a script and read from it.
  3. You spend the whole presentation worrying instead of connecting with your audience.

There’s a simple way of dealing with this:

Have only one thing that is really important to say.

And then make it impossible for you to forget to say it.

The one thing that is really important for you to say is called the key message of your presentation. It makes life easier for you because you know there’s only one thing you absolutely have to say and so you’re less concerned about forgetting to say other things. It’s also useful for the audience because there’s only one thing they have to grasp and remember and it provides focus for the presentation.

For help with crafting your key message, see this post: How to craft a memorable key message in 10 minutes.

How to make it impossible not to say it

1. Plan to say your key message several times

Plan to say your key message near the beginning of the presentation, refer back to it in your presentation, and say it at the end. Then if you skip over it by mistake at one point, you’ll be saying it elsewhere, so it won’t matter.

That repetition is also useful for your audience.

2. Put the key message on a slide

Yes, it’s OK to have some words on a slide. And if it’s one of the few slides with words on in your presentation, then it will help people in your audience to remember the words. And if you forget to say your key message, it’s on the slide. So it’s helpful both for you and your audience.

BIG WARNING: This is not an excuse to put everything you want to say on a slide. If you put everything you want to say on a slide, nothing stands out. It no longer works.

What about the rest of your presentation

So yes, there is more to your presentation than the key message. But everything else that you want to say is “nice-to-say” rather than “must-say”. Here are some tips to help you remember what you want to say:

1. Use notes

Notes help you remember what you want to say. If you’re concerned about missing something out, it makes sense to have some notes to keep you on track. I see no shame in having notes. If you have a mind blank, notes are the safety net that can get you started again. For help with constructing your notes see this post: The lost art of notes.

2. Rehearse

Rehearsal is always useful. Rehearse the transitions between your points. This is because you tend to miss something out when you’ve just finished a point and are struggling to think about what comes next.

3. Have a handout

You can let go of worrying about missing something out by having a handout or website to refer people to. If you forget to cover it they can look it up.

Now you can focus on connecting with your audience, rather than be constantly worrying about missing something out.

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  1. Olivia,
    Your speaking tips, especially Note Taking and Handouts. I find that audiences are quite OK with a Speaker holding 3×5 cards in hand with casual glance-downs. Of course, nothing works like the 3Ps…Preparation, Preparation, and Prepar…

    • Hi Andre

      Yes, I think there’s no problem with looking down at notes occasionally.

  2. Hi Olivia, I would like just to say thank thank you thank you… for your fantastic blog and your newsletters… it helped me a lot for my first presentation in front off some boss in Paris…

    • Hi Marcello

      I’m delighted that you’re finding my blog and newsletter helpful. Congratulations on your presentation and go well with the next one.

  3. Great topic. Many people fear presenting for one reason or another. Heck – 40% of Americans list it as there #1 fear. While I’d quickly say “practice” is really the only way to manage fear and ensure that you’re going to say everything you want to say, I think there’s another answer:

    You’re not perfect.

    Nor am I, or anyone in your audience for that matter. We’re all human beings and as humans, we forget things. It’s inevitable. We understand that presenters are humans and they’re going to mess up. Audience members are sympathetic and it won’t phase a soul as long as you don’t let it dominate your presentation like a tidal wave.

    Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Make sure you break down your presentation into the most core elements and ideas, and work from there. As long as you hit those, everything else is gravy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. (I think I just hit a record for cliche’s in a blog comment).

    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors

    • Hi Jon

      I agree with you that the need to be perfect is counterproductive to an effective and non-nerve-wracking presentation. I get very annoyed with articles with titles like “How to give the perfect presentation”. No such thing!



  1. Presentation Handouts - [...] They allow you to stop worrying about forgetting what you want to say. [...]