What Do I Say Next?
Sometimes we find ourselves at a loss for words and don't know what to say next.
A reader wrote me asking me to make some suggestions for this problem.
What to do? What to say? How to act?
The causes of being speechless are many.
--You feel shy and awkward, perhaps due to an unfamiliar situation
--You lack knowledge of the topic being discussed
--You are awestruck in the presence of a V.I.P or celebrity
--You scare yourself with negative self-talk (“I'll sound stupid”)
--You don't have an adequate vocabulary to express ideas
--Your conversational partner is withdrawn and non-communicative
Suggestions for getting unstuck:
1. Instead of relying solely on being spontaneous, take some time to prepare some remarks in advance. If you tend to be shy, you probably hesitate to talk about yourself, even though you will often be expected to because people will ask you about your work and your personal life. Collecting your thoughts in advance will provide you with something to say.
2. Focus more on being interested rather than trying to be interesting, which will make you self-conscious and nervous.
3. Emphasize asking instead of telling. Most people are pleased to have another ask them about their special interests and personal opinions. Here is an example of a short interview with open questions:
What kind of work do you do?
What do you like best about it?
What would be your “dream occupation?”
Prepare In Advance
Sometimes it is helpful to do a little background research on people you will meet. For example, if you are invited to dinner where a guest is from another country you know little about (say, Tanzania), you could spend a while reading about that country and its culture and politics. That would give you a context for asking questions.
I have observed that when conversers get nervous, they tend to ask “yes/no” questions, such as “Do you like living here?” This type of question can quickly become awkward and feel like interrogation to the person responding. For that reason, open questions are better.
Finally, if your problem is caused by lack of communication confidence, you might wish to consider joining a discussion group (such as a book club) or even a Toastmasters Club for enhancing your speaking skills. These are readily available in most communities. Practice usually results in both greater confidence and greater fluency.