Everything you say, and the way you say it, becomes evidence of your competence, or lack of it.

Deborah Tannen

Have you ever walked away from a meeting or a conversation face-palming, thinking things like, What was I thinking? Why did I run on like that? Or, I can’t believe I didn’t know when to stop talking!

It’s not uncommon. I often work with clients who struggle to be clear, succinct, and direct in their communication. It’s an issue that can trip up anyone who’s confidence-challenged or gets nervous speaking up in meetings and important conversations. While it’s great to voice your opinions and actively participate, you can actually blow your communication credentials out of the water simply by talking too much.

Usually, the symptom sounds something like this: “I started talking, and then I kept talking, and then I lost my point, and then I didn’t know what to do so I kept talking and didn’t know how to stop. And then I felt like an idiot.”

Yikes! An experience like that doesn’t exactly leave you with staggering confidence, does it?

When you lack the ability to be concise and succinct, you jeopardize your credibility, your message, and your reputation—and it’s likely you won’t be asked to speak to an executive team or present to a key customer anytime soon. So if you aspire to move upward, or improve on any level, it’s time to learn to rein in your verbal volume.

Can you relate? If so, use these three techniques to identify the communication traps that are keeping you stuck and what you can do to overcome them.

1. Power Up the Pause

The next time you’re concerned about talking too much in a conversation or meeting, pause. Before you speak, take a breath, count to five, and gather your thoughts. Experts say a three to five second pause is enough to help you reframe, refocus, and dim the excitement that inspires you to over-talk.

2. Slow Your Roll

Law students are taught to lower—not raise—their voice to highlight certain points. They’re also taught to intentionally slow down the tempo of their speech. This signals to listeners that what they’re about to say is important and needs to be retained. In short, they’re taught to slow down for emphasis.

Instead of falling into a constant, nervous stream of words, practice delivering your message “low and slow.”

At first, this may be hard, since it’s far from what you’re used to. But if you plan, anticipate, and visualize yourself being succinct and to the point, you’ll have more success.

3. Use a Conversation Framework

By using a framework while you’re speaking, you’ll be able to quickly organize your thoughts, rather than starting, rambling, and finishing in flames. Although there are many ways to frame up your message, here’s a simple example that you can try today: the P-R-E-S (point, reason, example, summary) model.

To show you exactly how to use it, let’s say you’re responding to a question or making a comment in a meeting. Use this four-step process to walk through your thoughts without losing track of your plan.

Point

Begin with the key point you want to make.

I believe we should use the excess $20,000 in the facilities budget to pave the gravel parking lot outside the new campus conference center.


Reason

Explain what’s driving your comment on the matter.

If we pave the parking lot, we’ll be able to attract more local conferences to the building, generate additional revenue, and become more integrated with the community.


Example

Give an example to expand on why your comment is important.

For example, the women’s group from the local community college wanted to rent our conference facility for a two-day event. However, they felt that asking attendees to park in a muddy lot would be unacceptable, so they chose another venue.


Summary

Close it out by reiterating your main point.

So, my recommendation is to use the extra funding to create a more appropriate space, so that we can attract clients and create a new revenue stream.

By using this simple four-step framework, you’ll give yourself a plan to hang your words and ideas on. You’ll have a clear beginning, middle, and end that will keep you from getting lost in your words. And by also strategically pausing before you speak and slowing and lowering your voice, you’ll overcome your tendency to talk too much and power up your communication IQ in no time!


Photo of speech bubbles courtesy of Shutterstock.