Have you ever experienced a situation where you’re in the middle of speaking and suddenly you lose your train of thought and have no idea what you’re going to say?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This happens to many people, even Native English speakers!
Today I’m sharing five strategies to help you navigate these situations with poise and confidence. And for those interested, these strategies improve your strategic competence within the communicative competence framework because they enable you to overcome communication breakdowns when they occur.
Let’s get right into it.
So first of all, tap into that confidence that you have. We don’t have to be 100% confident all the time, but we do want to feel somewhat confident most of the time. You can access that confidence by reminding yourself that you’re awesome and that you’re adding value to the conversation.
After you remind yourself of your awesomeness, take a deep breath and relax. When we’re stressing too much we can easily get caught up in our nerves and forget what we want to say.
Alright, and now for the five techniques. Use one of more of these techniques if you feel like you’re stuck and you want to get unstuck.
(1) A Moment to Pause
Pausing is a great way to collect your thoughts. It’s also a wonderful way to let the listener digest the information you’ve been sharing. Don’t feel pressured to fill each bit of silence or lulls in the conversation. Leverage the use of pause.
(2) Blame it on Brain Freeze
Are giving yourself a few seconds to pause and if still nothing comes to mind you can say:
I just had a bit of a brain freeze. Do you mind reminding me where we were?
If they asked a question and you think you answered some of it but you’re not sure you’ve covered everything they’re hoping for, you can say:
Does that answer your question? I just experienced a brain freeze!
Another synonym for brain freeze is losing your train of thought. So you could just as easily say:
I lost my train of thought. Where were we just now?
(3) Rephrase the Thought
This is a strategy I hear a lot of Native Speakers use and it’s a good one to keep in mind. You can say the following:
Let me start over
What I meant to say is that
I can put this a better way:
Let me rephrase that
I’ll start again with this
To put it in a better way…
A better way to phrase it is…
(4) Buy Yourself Thinking Time
This is key when you have what you want to say on the tip of your tongue but you just need a bit more time to formulate your thoughts. You could ask a question to them and let them answer, just make sure you’re still listening to what they have to say, don’t zone out in other words. Or you could drink some water or coffee if you have some on hand. In other situations, you might even be able to excuse yourself for a quick bio break.
(5) Get Some Clarity
It’s ok to ask for some clarification. In fact, it’s better to do that then respond to your interpretation of their question or just miss the point entirely because you didn’t understand what was being asked of you. One strategy within this technique is to paraphrase. So in other words, explain to them what you understood by using different words and terminology while keeping the message the same. If the paraphrasing is incorrect, this is most likely due to a lack of clarity. And that’s quite alright because it presents an opportunity for clarifying!
Alright, wonderful work. We discussed five techniques to improve your strategic communicative competence during moments when you feel stuck in English. Just as a recap, the strategies are: (1) taking a moment to pause (2) blaming it on a brain freeze (3) rephrasing the thought (4) buying yourself thinking time, and (5) getting more clarity.
Be sure to keep these strategies in mind and ready to use when you are in a conversation where you lost your train of thought. Remember, no need to panic and feel anxious, these things happen. We’re human and we’re not perfect, so we don’t have to pretend to be perfect! Doing our absolute best is enough!
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