Finding the words.

Empty auditorium chairs in rows.

Writing when the tongue has failed you.

Do you ever struggle to find the right words to say or lose your train of thought? Me too. This happens almost every time I open my mouth. For one undergraduate publication that I was in, I wrote as my blurb, “Words incoherently fall off her tongue in person. Hand her a keyboard or pen, though, and you’ll have lots of fun!”

It’s true. It was around fifth grade when everyone in my class started to access the internet from home. The first thing I did was create an email address to exchange with others. We all went straight home and added each other on MSN Messenger (remember those days?). A few weeks later, the secret was out: I talked – a lot. Some of my classmates had difficulty believing that I was the same person behind the keyboard because I didn’t sound the same. But it wasn’t that I didn’t sound the same – I wasn’t being heard in the first place, not pretending to be someone else.

It’s great to think before you speak, but the amount of time I spend thinking is impractical in social situations. And so, I either choose to not speak at all, for fear of becoming an incoherent mess, or speak and… still become an incoherent mess. It’s like opening my mouth is the death of my ideas, released into the world without passing through my voice box. R.I.P.

Through instant messaging, I found my voice. It revealed a side of me to others that I often reserved for my closest friends. Instant messaging was an icebreaker. No pre-teen insecurities or failure of a tongue was going to stop me from expressing myself. It gave me time to think, reflect, and revise. I didn’t know it then, but I was a perfectionist. My ideas materialized into something I could see and craft as I pleased. Disrupted conversations weren’t awkward because, for all people knew, I was AFK.

Typing slowly, on the other hand, was not ideal. I tried to avoid the “Rebecca is typing…[FOREVER!]” message. So, I also picked up a very important skill through instant messaging: typing quickly and accurately. Being able to type quickly accelerates the writing process. Now, I pound away at the keyboard with no more worries about breaking pencils or bruising fingers. And no more worries about not being able to catch up with my once-fleeting thoughts.

Speaking when no one will read.

But we still have a dilemma here. I can’t communicate with the world solely through the internet. I mean, I could – but that’s impractical.

For casual conversations, I would say that the key is to become a subject matter expert. For example, talking about myself is easy. Talking about my opinions on a subject requires some thought, but it’s still easy. Nonetheless, my thoughts like to escape me sometimes. You’ll just have to wait.

But what if the audience can’t wait? What if I have to deliver a presentation because it is the most effective way to get a particular message across? What if writing fails me because the audience does not want to read? How do I ensure that my words pass through my voice box when it matters?

Write some more. While writing can replace your voice box, it would be pitiful to let it go to waste. Writing can also support it, if you’re a subject matter expert. In my dreaded speech writing class, I learned that very few people can deliver a well-crafted impromptu speech. A lot of preparation goes into the delivery of good presentations. Writing allows you to clearly see and arrange your ideas so that they come out the way you want them to. If you forget your speech, at least you’ll have an outline; it’s got all the key messages.

The easy way out would be to hand your speech over for someone else to read. But as terrifying as speaking may be, first ask yourself, “Am I okay with letting someone else be the medium of my message?”

If the answer is no, #ownit.


Header image by Michael & Christa Richert.

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