Some people are natural ramblers. Others are prone to ramble when they feel impassioned about a topic and have a propensity for going off on tangents. Others tend to blather because they feel jumpy and insecure when asked to talk about something they don’t totally understand. Still others feel compelled to talk just to make themselves heard or when they don’t want to lose the floor.
Whatever the reason you may ramble, here are some ideas to help you be short and clearer in your conversations with others.
Follow the “Traffic Light Rule”
- During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention.
- During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish.
- After the one-minute mark, your light is red: Yes, there are rare times you should “run a red light:” when your listener is obviously fully engaged in your missive. But usually, when an utterance exceeds one minute, with each passing second, you increase the risk of boring your listener and having them think of you as a chatterbox, windbag, or blowhard.
How to be Concise and Retain your Audience’s Interest
If you have nothing to say, say nothing at all. Don’t skirt around the topic, “fake the funk,” or seem indecisive. Simply say, “I am not educated about this topic.” If you’re asked something you should know about but don’t, it’s acceptable to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” Do your research and follow-up with the audience.
If you have lots to say about something,
- First take a few moments to think about what you want to say and structure your answer. Pausing before you give an answer will make you look more thoughtful and intelligent than if you crudely blurt out an unstructured response as soon as a question is posed. If necessary, buy some time: “Give me a moment to gather my thoughts.”
- Once you’ve thought of your answer, simply state it. Do not add new details as you speak. Stick to your planned details and structure; you will be able to provide a consistent, concise, and well-reasoned answer.
- Avoid littering your conversation with irrelevant or trivial details. Often, it’s more important to be articulate than accurate. Keep your sentences brief and to the point. Don’t wander from your point.
- If you have more to say than you can say in a minute or two, realize that even though your audience may be interested in listening to everything you have to say, their attention may quickly dissolve into disinterest. Limit yourself to a minute or two and use that brief time to provide the most important points or a summary. Then ask, “Would you like me to expand?”
Sometimes you can defer a question by saying, “I’d be interested in what others think about this.” However, you will look devious if you use this technique too often.
Prepare and rehearse. Before attending a meeting, event, or gathering, think about the likely topics people may want to converse with you about. Think about the message you want to get across and rehearse your responses.