How to Be Concise

As a child, I never thought twice before I spoke, and sometimes didn’t think even once. I’ve learned ways to control this (often the hard way). My childhood and adolescent memories sometimes feel like a film reel of cringe-worthy moments wherein my mouth fired off (and kept going) before my brain had caught up – but I find myself, as an adult, still working through this in different ways.

If you Google this problem, you’ll find a great deal of advice on how to stop rambling. It’s great advice that I know I need to work harder to take – tips like:

  • Don’t be afraid to pause and think through your thoughts before presenting them.
  • The stoplight rule: after the first 20 seconds, your light is green; for the 20 seconds after that, start slowing down; if you get past 40 seconds, your light is red – you’ve lost your audience. Even this seems too long, even though I know I break this rule all the time.
  • Focus on slowing the pace of your speech. You’ll have more time to realize when you’ve reached a good stopping point.
  • Lower the tone of your speech. It will give your words more gravity and make you sound more confident in what you are saying.

I work very hard to remember these rules in any conversation, whether on the phone, in a meeting, or making a presentation to a group, and by and large, I’ve grown more aware of my speech – though I admit, it is sometimes harder than others. Because while these tips are great, they don’t get to the root of the problem for this rambler: anxiety. At its heart, my habit of running on and on is born out of a feeling that I must continue to speak until I’ve sufficiently demonstrated my knowledge about a subject. I’m afraid of not knowing the answer to something; afraid to acknowledge publicly that I’m not sure, I don’t know, or I’ve never done that. Resistance to saying those words is a tough habit to break, but I think many have this fear sometimes. Ultimately, I just fear being dismissed by my audience. The tips above are great for learning how to appear confident. But freeing yourself from insecurity takes a little more sweat. I’m working on it.


The Muse: Three Smart Ways to Keep from Rambling

Harvard Business Review: How to Know if you Talk Too Much

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