How can I be more articulate when I am talking to big shots?
December 17, 2013 5:49 AM   Subscribe

I am newly promoted on a diplomatic track. I guess this promotion comes from my clear vision, unique perspective and general abilities. That's great, of course -- but: When I meet up with people high on the food chain, I sometimes speak too quickly and without enough reflection. I become very animated and expressive and while this attitude is part of my success, it simply is not professional. I lack the calm and highly articulate speech that my brilliant colleagues regularly employ. it makes me look Mickey Mouse by comparison.

I tried all kinds of techniques to keep cool around those people (visualization, slow breathing, etc) but I feel my heart start beating and the surge of adrenaline and I transform like that into an inarticulate, blubbering fellow who may have a good idea or two, but certainly does not come off as the brilliant strategist which I want them to perceive me as.

How can I overcome this?
posted by mateuslee to Human Relations (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Speak one sentence at a time. Think out the sentence before you say it. Form it in your mind before you open your mouth, then stick to the sentence you've written in your head. Get a thought in the middle of your sentence? Hold on to it and make your next sentence after you've finished it.

Practice this in private when you get the chance. Play both sides of the conversation, but one sentence at a time.
posted by Etrigan at 5:54 AM on December 17, 2013

Remove "like" "um" "totally" etc. from your vocab.

Remove cheesy go-to phrases - don't speak in cliches or memes. If it rolls off the tongue too easily, try a different way of saying the same thing. Speak from your honest self - what you truly think & feel.

You could try taking a communications class, a university-level communications class. Not toastmasters (ugh) but a class where you have to give regular oral presentations and then get feedback. Once you get over a few cringe-worthy moments, suddenly the stakes don't seem as high. Also they will teach you about the entirety of a message, not just how to put together a powerpoint. For eg., in the coms class I took, they taught me to ask this question to myself in every situation: "Who is saying what? To whom? For what purpose? And who benefits?" This unravels a lot of "stuff" since of course at the executive level there is a bunch of additional bullshit going on in addition to regular information exchange.

Be confident that you know your stuff.

Yes they are watching you at the higher levels. But not to see what you know or how much you can impress. They want to see is that you are a trustworthy individual, not an anxious 'yes-person', that you are authentic and self-possessed. For this purpose I recommend Leil Lowndes' How to Talk to Everyone. You can also try her book How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You. The first one focuses on all the little tips and tricks about communicating at the executive level - the subtle non-verbal cues that communicate confidence and poise. The second book assumes you want to "marry up" and so it describes how to communicate with people above your class, so as to blend easily. A good skill for a diplomat.

And remember that they take their pants off to shit just like everyone else.

Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:04 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to count to 2 when answering my former intimidating boss. It slowed everything down for me.
posted by Sreiny at 7:46 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

people high on the food chain

Not advice, but as you start to see yourself as an equal, you'll automatically start acting like one.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:14 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Your description reminds me of myself. I can easily get really excited and inarticulate and end up sounding like I have nothing substantial to contribute.

The biggest thing that made a difference for me is to be unafraid of silence while I'm speaking. If I need to take 5 or 10 seconds to think about what to say next I just do it. It's amazing how effective this is. It helped me speak without "like"s and "um"s and prevents me from saying unorganized gibberish. This technique goes hand in hand with speaking slowly.
posted by musicismath at 8:22 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Performance enhancing drugs, e.g. beta blockers.
posted by bukvich at 8:49 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My speech becomes more confident when I know that I'm thoroughly prepared and know exactly what I'm talking about.
posted by umbรบ at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Practice with a friend. Have the friend act like the big shot, and you practice talking to them. This will feel awkward and embarrassing, so you will want to avoid doing it, but that's the point. Overcoming the awkwardness and embarrassment takes practice. Once you're able to do it with a friend, you'll be able to "slip into character" during the real situation.
posted by cheesecake at 1:05 PM on December 17, 2013

You need the old man on the front porch of your mind.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

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