How can I learn to articulate my words in general and to articulate how I feel?

I struggle with knowing what to say in conversations or even just speaking out in front of large or small crowds. I want to be a business owner and I know in order to do so I have to be comfortable with speaking in all aspects. What are ways I can improve this? Thanks in advance.
Asked by Lysa

Thank you for submitting your question. And I am sorry that you are experiencing these difficulties right now.

Sometimes when we are repeatedly finding that we just do not know what to say during a conversation we are dealing with an issue known as social anxiety. You seem to get stuck in your head. Your head truly feels entirely empty. You’ve got nothing. The conversation might stop. And then you are overwhelmed by the awkward, uncomfortable silence  - which makes things feel even worse.

Stress and anxiety can cause us to have those “I don’t know what to say!” moments. What can lead to this is a fear of being judged by others. We get worried about how we will be perceived both by those we know well as well as by strangers.

Often, it’s negative thoughts which tend to get in our way during these moments. We spend too much time dwelling on potentially negative outcomes – ones which, when we really dig in deep, aren’t likely to occur or, if they do, won’t be as bad as our imagination may lead us to believe. It can help to keep reminding yourself that even if you blunder, everybody does.

Actually, most people will likely remember a number of times wherein they said or did something which made them feel silly or foolish or less than in some way. And as such, most people tend to be compassionate and understanding. You might not know it, but a lot of people get nervous talking to others – they just aren’t walking around telling everyone about it. So, you are not alone!

We also sometimes tend to think others notice our mistakes more than they do. The pause in conversation which you feel is lasting forever could be barely noticeable to your companion. Most people aren’t noticing things to the degree you might think. And if they do? They usually forget rather quickly.

As for not knowing what to say, there are some strategies and ideas which could be helpful:

Ask lots of questions. Getting other people to do most of the talking can be helpful. It takes a lot of the burden off of you. People usually like to talk about themselves. And when we show an interest in them, it tends to boost their mood and makes them think of us in a favorable light. It can help to think up different questions you might ask. In particular, you’ll want to ask questions that will get more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. This can often be solved by wording your question well. And if you do get a brief reply, you can ask a follow up question or say something like “tell me more about that.”

Another helpful strategy is to put all your focus on the other person. You might get concerned with how you are coming across or what you will say next. Pay close attention to what they are saying and see what kind of questions you can come up with based on what they are telling you. Let’s say they told you they traveled to Boston last week. What was it like – what did they think about the city? How long did they visit for? Did they go anywhere or do anything that they’d recommend or suggest you avoid?

It can help to accept silence and to begin to view it as okay – even good. It doesn’t have to be seen as something that has to be fixed. The reality is that most conversations contain long pauses. And that’s okay. It gives you a moment to catch your breath.

It can also be helpful to challenge the inner critical voice. Our internal voice leads us to think we are a failure or incompetent or just not good at talking. We think so many things over the course of a day. And most of it is not true. It can help to put a thought on trial. What is the thought? Is it true? What’s your evidence for and against it? Could something else be true?

As for talking in front of groups, this is a universal fear for many people. Again, you are not alone! There are classes and groups you can join to work on this skill. Consider checking around to see if you can locate one near you. There are public speaking courses or public speaking meetups you can try out. 

To get more comfortable and better at speaking in front of others, practice will be key. You may likely always be nervous to some degree (that is normal!), but the more you practice the better you’ll become at speaking. If you are giving a formal talk, then go over what you’ll say when you are at home. Do it as many times as needed. Memorize it if need be.

Learn from expert speakers. There are lots of resources out there from experts who will give you tips and tricks. They will help you learn to speak well and even go over information pertaining to body language. If you want to do something well, become a student of it. Nobody is ever born knowing how to do something well! So, start studying. Public speaking is a skill and an art. It’s something you can improve on over time. The more you do it, the better you will become at it.

As for knowing how to articulate what you feel, this is another area where you will benefit from practice. Spending some time increasing self-awareness might be helpful. Journalling can be a good starting point. Take time to sit and let your thoughts and feelings pour out onto the pages. Or try recording yourself talking aloud if that’s easier. Practice expressing yourself by yourself – and eventually move on to speaking with others. 

If it continues to be a struggle, consider working with a therapist. A therapist can help you identify and work on any individual issues which might be holding you back. And talking with a therapist, opening up to someone trained to listen and communicate with you, can in itself be helpful as it’s a judgement free space in which to practice opening up.