When words fail you: 6 tips for speakers

In can happen to even seasoned presenters: A question or comment you haven’t anticipated stops you short. Here are some ideas for how to regroup.

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Every speaker encounters moments when the words he or she needs don’t emerge on time.

That’s especially true in Q and A sessions or media interviews, but it may happen to you in any speaking situation.

For those occasions when you just need time to think about what to say next, here are some stepping stones to get you across the deep river of stumbles and silence. They’re tips to help you gather and express your thoughts:

1. Use a neutral phrase to buy yourself some time.

A medium-length phrase lets you get a response started, while thinking what you’ll say at its end. “I’m trying to recall a time when that happened,” or, “Let’s look at the evidence on that point,” can move your answer forward while buying you time.

2. Use a time-buying phrase instead of “um” or “uh.”

For many speakers, “um” and “uh” are signals that they’re trying to think of what to say. Replace them with a time-buying phrase to sound more eloquent and responsive.

3. Incorporate your own experience to answer the question while buying time.

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