Preparing to give a presentation? Keep this tip in mind: stay present.

Ask anyone who speaks in front of an audience what one of their worst nightmares is, and they’ll likely tell you it’s not knowing what they’re going to say next.

This panic-inducing phenomenon can happen any time you’re speaking in front of a group. You could be giving a presentation, teaching a class, or leading a meeting. Things are moving along quite nicely, and wham! You lose your place, forget what comes next, or experience the equivalent of a mental blank page. And it can happen to anyone, no matter how prepared you are.

The way to combat that mental blank page is to strengthen your ability to stay focused entirely on the here and now.

Being present is what many speakers strive for. It’s that nearly-magical state where you are completely and totally focused on what’s happening in that particular instant, and you’re responding without depending on premeditated thought. Even though you may have rehearsed, practiced, or memorized for hours, it appears to an audience – and it feels to you – like it’s the first time it’s ever happened. That paradox – spontaneous preparation – depends on your ability to stay present and not be distracted by what’s going on around you or the steady stream of thoughts racing through your mind.

Being On Stage – And Going Blank

You can also experience the terror of blanking when you’re an actor. In theatre terms, forgetting your lines is called “going up.” And boy, did I go up recently.

I was performing in a play, going through a scene I’d done a thousand times without a hitch. For a split second, I became distracted by the audience. I lost focus and let my mind wander – and with horror, quickly realized that I HAD NO IDEA WHAT CAME NEXT.

To say that I panicked was an understatement. If you’ve ever blanked in front of an audience, you know how terrible this moment is. Time slowed down, my heart rate went up, and my stomach knotted in fear.

While all of this was happening, I looked at my fellow actors with what I was later told was a “deer in the headlights” face. They realized what was going on and without missing more than a couple of beats, moved the scene along with another line.

This prompt was enough to help me lock into where we were, and we finished the scene (and the performance) without another noticeable mishap.

In looking back, I can pinpoint the precise moment when I set myself up for disaster. I lost my place when I allowed myself to be taken out of the present moment by a disruption in the audience.

How do you become better at being present?

Meditation is a wonderful way to become better at not letting distractions take you out of the moment. To strengthen your ability to be present, you can practice a simple form of meditation for a few minutes each day.

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Bring your attention to your breath.
  • Notice the sensations you’re feeling, the thoughts that float through your mind, or the external sounds you hear.
  • When your attention wanders, refocus on your breath.

It’s not about clearing your mind, although that can happen. The practice of redirecting your attention despite other interruptions is how you become better able to stay focused on the present moment.

Meditating for just a couple of minutes a day can benefit you. Research is showing that regular practice can boost your mood, your health, and your longevity. Being able to stay present can also improve your communication skills. You’ll be able to listen actively to others, respond appropriately in the moment, and be able to manage your emotions when things start to get heated.

The times when I’ve found it most rewarding to be in front of a group, whether I was speaking, facilitating, teaching, or performing, have been the times when I’ve been completely present. In these moments, I can experience the give and take of the group. I can plug into the energy of the room. I can experience the joy of truly connecting with others. And I can count on knowing exactly what to say next.

Do you meditate or have another form of mindfulness practice? Share your experiences here!