One of the chief complaints that seem to be bringing young professionals into my office is trouble thinking on the spot to organize their thoughts in everyday speech.Typically, difficulty formulating open ended responses affects people across social, academic, and work contexts. Verbal fluency is different from a fear of public speaking which many socially confident people experience, though can definitely coexist with public speaking anxiety. In speech therapy terms we call this impaired verbal fluency, or verbal organization of discourse. It can be caused by any one of the following, or combination of the following underlying conditions.
- Social anxiety
- Executive functioning disorder- part of an attention deficit disorder ; or the main symptom of a concussion, or closed head injury
- Stuttering or Cluttering Disorder
- Reduce verbal memory associated with a reading disorder/Dyslexia
- Poor word retrieval ( associated with reduced verbal memory above, or from a neurological cause such as a stroke, or dementia)
- Situational occurrence of preoccupation
Whatever the underlying cause, I recommend the following 5 tips to help you improve your fluency of on-the-spot responses.
- Pause briefly before responding rather than jumping in to begin responding then having to think aloud. You can even verbalize, “Good question, let me think a minute…”
- Three Sentence rule. Provide three sentences to answer the question, then wait to see if your listener asks for any further information on the subject. One way to do this is to focus on answering three out of the following six question words: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY HOW and WHEN.
- Imagery- Picture the concept or event in your head to help recall specifics and maintain your train of thought.
- Say what you do know, then link your comment back to the other person. “ My weekend was pretty uneventful, what did you do?”. If you can’t remember what you did, it must have been pretty uneventful!
- Breathe! Take calming breaths before entering a conversation, and remember to breath at pause breaks. This will help you pace your rate of speech which will help keep you focused.
As an additional note, I find in my work that most individuals are hard on themselves, and particularly those who are high achievers. There may in fact be nothing wrong with your verbal fluency, and communicative effectiveness. Rather, you may have the unrealistic expectation that your conversational speech should be perfectly fluent. There are a certain amount of disfluencies that are considered typical of anyone talking, whether it be in formal or social discourse. It only becomes abnormal when it gets in your way, or in the way of your listener. If your listener has started counting your “like”s or “umm”s, you’re in trouble!
Make sure you reach out to me if I can be of any further help to you!
Judith Rosenfield, M.A, CCC-SLP
King’s Speech and Learning Center