I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing people, everyone from the CEO of Intel to a homeless man, and still I fell into the Memorization Trap.
Earlier this year I signed up for a conference in Chicago because the main speaker was someone who had a major impact on my career. Leading up to the event, the speaker offered limited access to one-on-one coaching. This was an amazing opportunity for a small business owner and all I had to do was apply with a 3-minute video.
Piece of cake! What could be easier than grabbing and iPhone and pitching to camera? You see I have some unique advantages:
- I’m an expert at making great videos.
- I’ve interviewed hundreds of people.
- I’ve been interviewed on live TV.
I wrote out an outline, ran it by my team at Pathfinder to make sure the approach was good, and PRESTO! I’m ready to record.
That’s when things took a wrong turn…the iPhone started rolling and my mind went blank. I looked at my notes, then back to the iPhone, then back to my notes. A voice in my head said, “This is not going to end well...”
I started speaking, but it was like I was in a wind tunnel -- I couldn’t hear myself. I’d get 70% of the way through a thought and forget the next word: “What’s the word? What’s the word?? It’s the word we use to describe how we get clients….” Nothing. I took a sheepish look back to my notes, “Oh yeah, referrals. The word is referrals.” UHHHHGGG!
Cut. Start over.
I was stuck in the Memorization Trap, trying repeat exactly what I wrote. On the next take I made it all the way to, “clients”... and my mind went blank again.
Cut. Start over.
After 60 minutes I still didn’t have anything usable, let alone good. My ears were pulsing in time with my heartbeat, my throat was tense and I’m angry with myself.
Why did it feel like such a big deal? Why couldn’t I MAKE MYSELF do better? I’m just a guy sitting in his own office. I had all the time in the world to get it right.
Let’s take a look at how the Memorization Trap might happen to you.
You know you’re going to be on camera and that there’s stakes. You want to look good and sound smart, so you write out your thoughts. You review your notes by focusing on keywords and phrases. Then when it’s time to deliver on camera your mind goes blank. After the first mistake you feel even more nervous. It feeds on itself until you’re left feeling ill, angry, and embarrassed.
Often you’ll find that the Memorization Trap catches people at the worst time: A high-pressure environment with tens of thousands of dollars on the line. The classic example is when your organization has hired a camera crew for a day to interview your co-workers, or the CEO, or when you're trying to document a customer’s experience on camera.
With the clock ticking people in the room will try to help out: They’ll tell the interviewee, “Relax. No stress. You’ll get it.” The person will nod, laugh nervously and try again, only to stammer to a stop even sooner. Feeling like they let the whole room down, the interviewee berates herself for the failure. “Stupid. Dumb. What’s wrong with me? Just get it right.”
Someone will then try and help by offering a line, “Why don’t you say it like this…” For the first 5 seconds the interviewee does beautifully, all of the sudden just as you think she’s about say it just right, the two ways of phrasing the thought collide mid-sentence, and the words come out in a jumble -- like a slam poet reciting a terrible haiku.
You want to help but somehow can’t, and the interviewee feels defeated. They think, “I’m terrible on camera.” Or, “I’ll never do that again.”
I’ve seen this type of experience haunt capable and well-spoken people for years.
The good news is there’s a simple mindset you can adopt to help even the most nervous person overcome the Memorization Trap and do well on camera. It doesn’t require media training, an executive coach, or a psychologist to reconstruct their psyche!