Learning how to organize and convey your thoughts helpfully to others is an immensely important (and often neglected) skill. Here are a few suggestions. They might seem obvious, but actually, doing the obvious is not always so easy.
- Slow down. Two or three seconds might feel like a long time to you when you feel “on the spot,” but it’s perfectly fine for people listening. In fact, you come across with more clarity and be taken more seriously if you pause and don’t rush.
- Think about the other person. What parts of what you have to say are they interested in? Do they already know more than you about the topic, or do they know much less? And why do they want to know? A big difference between average and great communicators is the ability to sense what is important to say, and what the other person already knows, and focusing on what’s helpful. If you do that, you’ll be appreciated, even if you’re not eloquent. If you don’t, you may be condescending (telling people what they already know) or a know-it-all (telling people more than they want to know) or just boring (telling people things they don’t care about).
- If necessary, clarify their question. If you don’t know why someone is asking the question, you probably won’t be able to be very helpful. If they’re asking you what you thought about a movie you just saw, say, “oh, did you see it too?” You then know a lot more about whether to give some background and avoid spoilers, or to jump into talking about the funniest scene.
- Focus on them as you explain. Do they want to say something? Do you need to back up? Stop and let them talk too. Pay attention to them, not yourself, and about whether they are understanding you. Don’t worry about how good a job you’re doing, as this is focusing your own attention on yourself.
- Be self-aware afterwards. Pay attention to how the other person responded. Reflect on how it was for you. Don’t judge yourself — just observe. Pay attention to your own emotions. Did you feel appreciated? Anxious? Scattered? How did they find you? Helpful? Nervous? Confident? If you were stressed or anxious, that’s a hint you have anxieties or insecurities to do with what others think of you. That’s a bigger topic than I can talk about here, but usually, if you are thoughtful and face them, such feelings can be overcome or at least mitigated. The first step is just being aware of it. On the other hand, if you were focusing on the person and their reactions, and had some back and forth, then chances are, you did a good job.
Hope that helps!
This question originally appeared on Quora: My thought process is a little chaotic and I struggle to relay a story or information in a concise way, when I’m put on the spot. What are some strategies I can work at to improve this skill?