Avoiding slips of the tongue

Particularly when we’re speaking in public, slips of the tongue are something most people prefer to avoid. Here are a few suggestions for keeping them to a minimum:

Prepare a talk that’s easy to deliver. Convoluted sentences and tricky constructions are more likely to trip you up than are clear, short points. When you’re developing how you’re going to express your content, find ways that suit your natural speech patterns and that flow smoothly from mind to mouth.

Practise! One of the myriad benefits of practising your speech or presentation is that, once you have said it all out loud a few (or more) times, your brain and tongue will be familiar with the words.

Slow down! This is important in public speaking for many reasons, not least that it gives you time to think what you’re saying. If you speak too fast, even straightforward phrases can become tongue-twisters.

Engage with what you’re saying. When someone is reading a speech or reciting it from memory, they have a far greater propensity to say words other than the ones they intended. These mistakes are different from the trips caused by speaking too quickly and they are mistakes the speakers wouldn’t make if they were properly tuned into what they were saying. It happens because the speaker’s mind is wandering slightly, either ahead in the speech or – even worse – wondering how it’s going or some other extraneous, potentially wobble-inducing thought. Stay focused and you’re much more likely to say what you mean.

Get enough sleep. I know from my own experience that when my mind is tired I have a vastly increased tendency to confuse my words and not be able to find the ones I want. This is another reason for preparing your speech or presentation early: if you don’t get enough sleep the night before the event, you will be at a disadvantage.

What if, after all, you do make a slip of the tongue?

Don’t worry! It happens to the best public speakers sometimes and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. What matters is not to be thrown by it and not to let it spoil the flow of your talk. If it’s a tiny nuance of a slip, just a slightly odd vowel-sound or something trivial like that, I suggest you ignore it and carry on. As long as it’s obvious what you meant, there’s no need to correct it. If it’s something bigger, simply correct it and carry on as if nothing has happened. Drawing attention to it will only make it into a bigger deal than it is and make sure than anyone who had missed it is now aware that you made a mistake.

Let me finish with a nice quotation from an article about slips of the tongue in Psychology Today:

“And should you make the inevitable slip, you can reduce the likelihood that it will be noticed by not stopping and by being very interesting, Erard advises. Listeners pay more attention to delivery when the content is dull.”


About Georgie

Coach and consultant in effective communication - public speaking, interviews & pitches, training, lecturing, meetings, debates & discussions. Motivational speaker
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8 Responses to Avoiding slips of the tongue

  1. mujaheed says:

    I have problem with not only public speaking, but even when I speak among my friends my tongues twists so fast and it makes it impossible for me to speak, that why I prefer bieng quiet and so my friends make fun of me,need help

  2. georgie926 says:

    Mujaheed, I’m very sorry for the delayed response – I didn’t see your comment until I logged in just now to write a new post. I have a few suggestions for you:
    – Speak slowly and make only brief remarks until you feel more confident to say more.
    – If there is something specific you want to tell someone, rehearse it alone in advance, so your mouth gets used to the words.
    – Explain to your friends how you feel and get them to support, not make fun of, you. Perhaps approach individuals separately. Once you know people will wait for you to express yourself and not ridicule you, this will take off a great deal of pressure and the problem will soon reduce.
    – If your friends can’t be persuaded to be kind and supportive, consider finding new friends who will be.
    – Work on your self-esteem and know that what you have to say is valuable and worth waiting for.

  3. RUHINA says:

    Always slip off tongue& forget whatc to speak

  4. georgie926 says:

    Ruhina, sorry for the delay to you too. My advice is to speak more slowly and, for important occasions, to rehearse what you want to say before you say it to other people. If it’s public speaking we’re talking about, it’s essential to prepare and rehearse thoroughly every time. If you’re forgetting what you want to say, I’d also recommend you have some bullet points with you as notes.

  5. haleema khan says:

    i wanna talk but afraid that my tongue might slip so i am always silent
    and everybody thinks i am boring becoz i dont talk

    • georgie926 says:

      The first thing I suggest, Haleema, is that you stop worrying about it! Everybody makes slips of the tongue from time to time and it really doesn’t matter, particularly in everyday conversation. The more you worry about it and focus on it, the harder it’s going to be for you to get over it. Focus on the content of what you want to say.

      If you’re concerned about a specific occasion, try rehearsing what you want to say – saying it out loud in advance in the way you want to say it will help you to say it properly when you do it for real. Speak slowly and, as I say, concentrate on the subject. If you make a mistake, ignore it and move on. If you get completely tongue-tied, just laugh it off. If you can show people it’s not a big deal to you, they won’t think about it and will just listen to what you’ve got to say.

  6. Zarak khan says:

    Always having a problem in speaking although I did take some psychological classes that gave some exercise … I improved a bit .. But now at the same position … What should I do … I want this problem finished

    • georgie926 says:

      Probably the best advice I can give you, Zarak, is to concentrate on other things and thereby stop worrying about it. Getting stressed about your speaking is only exacerbating the problem. Challenge yourself in other areas, build up your confidence in general, and you’ll almost certainly find the speaking issue gradually disappears while you’re not looking.

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