While it would be nice to think we all move through the world with effective, thoughtful, meaningful language at our beck and call, it’s possible this isn’t always the case.
What can you do if you trip over your words more frequently than your words trip off your tongue? Here are a few strategies:
If you know you’ll be having a meeting or conversation with someone/ about something that makes you tense you can:
1. Think through the answers to “softball” questions For example, “What do you think we should do about X?” (It’s a softball because it’s so big it’s hard to know what to swing at.) The way to answer a softball question is to pick one, very specific thing to address. So your answer might be, “Well one thing we could do immediately is X.” That is usually enough to get the ball rolling.
2. Think through the worst 2 or 3 questions you might be asked. (Everybody usually knows what these questions are and everybody hopes they don’t come up: but hope is not a strategy.) Once you have the questions, practice your answers out loud— we all can think we know how we will answer but it’s only when we hear ourselves that we realize we have a plot hole.
In impromptu meetings/conversations:
1. If you are asked something and your mind goes blank, I recommend saying, “I’d like to think about that for a second because I want to give you the best answer/information possible.” Nobody is pissed at the guy who wants to give the best answer possible.
2. If you begin to answer and you get stuck, fill people in on what is happening without apologizing. Why? Because when you apologize others often feel they have to respond, which can make them uncomfortable. If, however, you say, “Hang on–I’m going to ask for your patience while I think this through,” you sound like you are in control of the situation/conversation, and that helps them relax and give you the time you need
Two other tools that are nice to have in your back pocket:
1. Inhale before you begin to speak and speak on an exhalation. This gives your voice resonance and authority.
2. Take notes during your conversation. This slows the conversation down enough for you to have time to collect your thoughts and it makes the person you are speaking with feel special and important—which can go a long way toward their finding your words effective, thoughtful and meaningful.