We've all had that moment: you're asked a question and your mouth takes off without getting clearance from your flight-tower-of-a brain. Sorry, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. Don't sweat it. Not knowing where you're going to land this puppy doesn't mean you should immediately reach for the ejector seat. So relax, Maverick, take a deep breath, and friggin' commit.
First thing's first — keep talking. Don't stop. Ever. Focus on pacing yourself. Slow your speech down to an even, smooth cadence. Be the calm. Nothing to see here, folks, just an educated, experienced, and articulate business professional reeling off some things fantastic. And hold on to your hats, people, because your minds may just be blown away.
And hey, brain, that message goes for you too, buddy. Calm that shit down. Breathe. You own this, and you're going to bring it home without the slightest hint of
How? It's simple, just follow these seven simple steps and you'll have it made. Not that this stuff is easy, it's not. It's going to take practice, fortitude, and a triumphant inner debate about whether or not fear is a choice (spoiler alert: it is). But with some effort, you'll quickly mold yourself into quite the smooth criminal and thrill-er in no time (assuming you're speaking with a female and can't come up with a better Michael Jackson pun).
Step 1: Decouple Talking And Thinking
That's right, your brain can do one thing while your mouth does another. Think of yourself as a ventriloquist, except in this case you're also the dummy. While you talky talky talky in the foreground, you need to simultaneously thinky thinky thinky in the background. A good way to practice this is by listening to the radio while speaking to a friend. See if they notice when your focus strays too far from them, then work on making your state of elsewhere attention undetectable.
Step 2: Don't Let Facaded Eyes Feel Like Lies
Train yourself to make — and maintain — eye contact. If you're the sort of person whose eyes wander while they think, well then, stop being that person. If writing down ideas as you work through them helps to formulate and firm up nascent thoughts, find another way. To keep people's trust you have to keep their attention. They need to know that you know where you're going, and it needs to feel natural and without effort. Panicked eyes show a panicked soul, remove yourself of both.
Step 3: Mark Your Twain, Proactively
If you find yourself in the beginnings of a ramble, start establishing navigational markers to inform the audience of your direction. "As we work through the data on this particular point, it's important to note that three distinct patterns begin to emerge." Really? Three distinct patterns? Great! Now the persons with whom you're speaking know that you're about to drop three insight bombs squarely in their laps (oh, and also, now you've given yourself a ghost outline to flesh out, on the fly). Three talking points? Pshhh, of course you can remember/discover/invent those in real time. And the best part — you've just bought yourself some time. You just reminded your audience of the three impenetrable and undeniable facts that 1) you know what you're talking about, and 2) the good parts are yet to come. You've held their interest, as well as their trust, and have them anticipating your next line, which will surely be great. Good job, Golden Girl (or Golden Boy (or, even better, Golden Child (there, that feels right (by the way, how are we feeling about this unabashed employment of nested parentheses (like this one right here) of which we're currently in the midst?)))). Which brings me to my next point.
Step 4: Don't Look Back
Whether you're a master at this stuff or just starting out, act the part. Depending on your level of experience, your thought route may be intentionally or unavoidably circuitous. This is okay. In fact, this should still feel natural to your listeners, as long as you pay off in the end. If you get lost in your words, or tripped up on the number of items left to to list off versus those you've already enumerated (see: nested parentheses above), don't draw attention to it. Everything is going according to plan. Everything is going according to plan. Your entire countenance should speak to that end. You've ended up exactly where you meant to arrive. It's as simple as that.
Step 5: If Called Out, Acknowledge and Pivot
From time to time, an astute listener will realize you've only voiced two of the three points you promised to articulate. That's okay, we're not in the business of elaborate cover-ups here, we're simply having a conversation. If ever questioned on the structural soundness of your delivery, immediately acknowledge the oversight. There's no need to be defensive, nor is it worth attempting to convince your audience that they did, in fact, hear all three, glorious points you promised. Instead, agree with them (they're right, after all). Good listeners shouldn't be avoided or feared, but instead bonded with. They're on your side. They've listened to every word you've uttered and have been paying attention. This means they've already endowed you with a certain level of trust and attention. Those are your building blocks right there, upon which you have to lather some cement to solidify the relationship. But you have to act fast. Here's what you do: either make a joke and admit there were only two points to be made, or quick!, come up with a third. But as with all of this, don't fuggin' waffle. If you try to hedge your bets, using some sort of "yeah, there was a third one, let's see, that one was, ummmmmmmmm." Just give up, you're toast. Once you power wash the facade of "I know what I'm doing," and start repainting with "It's okay, I'll figure this out right now," well then, you're done-zo.
Step 6: In Summation: Summarize Something
If your audience is still listening by the end of your little speech, reward them. They need to know that talkey talkey talkey is over and that you're finished. The best way to do this is by providing a point of summary, a set of points, an overview sentiment, or a circle-back statement that tells everyone that what you just finished spouting was relevant, coherent, and is now over. It doesn't matter if you make a new point or re-emphasize something referenced along the way, just bring it back around and land that sucker. Don't overreach and don't flail, just unfurl one last bit of brilliance, original or remixed, and take a bow or take a bow.
Step 7: Shut Up
When you're done, you're done. Don't — and I meant DON'T — ramble. Even if no one jumps in right away, sit tight. If the room is silent, it means they're pondering your words. If someone responds right away, even better. The point is, no matter what, don't undermine yourself.
This last point is such an integral piece of this entire equation, it bears repeating. Don't. Undermine. Yourself. You'll be tempted to, your almost-irrepressible fear boiling up and pushing you to fall apart. Don't let it. You do know what you're talking about, And you are articulate. So be the first to place confidence in yourself. If you do, others will follow. And you deserve it; you've just run headlong through a wall of fire and then turned around, shouting back to the others, half-encouraging and half-taunting: "Follow me, dammit! I know what I'm doing."