Monday, March 21, 2016

Metering your thoughts

I have such wonderful clients: they are smart, self-aware people. They know what they know--many are experts in their field--but they are also clear-eyed enough to know what they don't know.  And when they know they are not speaking or presenting as well as they should, they come to me. I help them improve their communications skills so they can clearly convey their (sometimes complicated, often paradigm-shifting) ideas to others.

Lately it seems a lot of my clients have the same problem: they get stuck in their heads.  I don't mean they listen to negative self-talk that holds them back. That is true of every single person I have ever coached, and I always address it by giving my clients strategies for putting that self-talk "out of mind." No, the "stuckness" I am focusing on happens when you are called upon to speak in a meeting and your thoughts come so fast it's hard to get them out coherently. All the right ideas are in there, in your mind, but there is a traffic jam as they try to take the exit ramp.

It is frustrating, yes, to know you actually have the answers, but cannot express them with the dynamic confidence you want. It would be nice if you could just flip a switch and slow your thoughts down so they come to you in a manner that is easier to process. If you were actually in traffic, you'd find the exit ramp meter most helpful. Sadly, our minds are not that automated.

So here's the next best thing: slow down. Breathe before you begin to speak. Put a period at the end of each sentence. Complete each thought. Give yourself a little space between the idea you just verbalized and the next one. Space to breathe. Space to think. Try this until the run-on-tumbling-out-of-words becomes a series of sentences, and you will find you have slowed down your pace to a tempo you can control. Then you'll be able to shape your impromptu responses in a way that reflects your expertise and knowledge. And an added bonus: you will have time to gauge the level of audience comprehension, so what you say will land with maximum impact and effectiveness.

It's like your Driver's Ed teacher said: Obey the traffic signals, take your time, and you'll not only have a safer trip, you'll enjoy it more, too.

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