How to Choose the Right Words

wordsDo you ever get tongue-tied when you speak? Have trouble thinking of the right words to make your point? It’s frustrating when you can’t automatically find the right words. Let’s think about why that happens, and how you can build more fluency in your speech.

First, consider the redundancy in word choices. When you are planning to say “consider,” there are many similar words you could use instead. For example:

Think about

The trouble is, which of these words will you use? After all, they mean almost the same thing. But since there are sight differences in tone and meaning, you might prefer to use one word more than another. When we are writing, we consider our words carefully, and then select the exact word that conveys our meaning, nuance and intent. We review it and edit if we discover a better way to say it.

It’s different when we speak. We can’t always capture the exact words we want at the exact moment we want them. We can’t always remember the words we rehearsed so carefully. The more we search for the right words, the more frustrated we become, which makes us struggle even more. We can’t edit like we do in writing, so whatever words come to mind will often have to do.

So how can we find the right words when we speak, and come up with them quickly enough? Here are some tips to help you build verbal fluency.

Slow down slightly. We think many times faster than we speak. This means you will have time to think of the words you want, as long as you don’t rush or panic.

Accept imperfection. Recognize that you won’t be as word-perfect when speaking as you might like. It just doesn’t work that way. Take the good-enough word rather than struggling for the best one. As long as the word is similar, and the meaning is clear, your listener won’t usually care which words you chose, and they won’t even necessarily know what words you planned to say.

Suspend judgment. If you feel foolish or embarrassed because you can’t think of the perfect word, you will lose focus and confidence. The best reaction is to move forward, forget your stumble, and focus on what you are saying instead of feeling uncomfortable.

Rehearse out loud. Rehearsing in your head is convenient, but it’s not the same as rehearsing out loud. Rehearsing out loud trains your brain in a different way, and it seems to help the words flow. As you rehearse, try stating the same content using different words, so that you don’t get too hung up on a particular word or phrase. If something trips you up, you have time to find a substitute words.

Focus. Often we are distracted when we speak by trying to remember the right words. Stay as focused as you can on the meaning you are conveying, not the words, and trust that the words will come as you need them—especially if you have rehearsed out loud. Focus on one thought at a time instead of thinking of what is coming next.

Pause. If you need to pause to gather your thoughts while you are speaking, so be it. The pause may seem inordinately long, but in most cases, it is not a problem.

That’s it. Take these steps starting today and see how quickly your fluency improves.