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.”