President George W. Bush once said “For seven and a half years, I’ve worked along side President Reagan. We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex… uh… setbacks.”
Bush had a slip of the tongue and recovered quickly. As did his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, when she said “As I was telling my husb… as I was telling President Bush.”
These quotes, and many more, are in Terrorized by the Tongue, an article in the magazine Psychology Today about slips of the tongue.
The article examines the psychology of why we blurt out supposedly repressed or unconscious words. It says that we all do it, and “each day, most of us make somewhere between 7 and 22 verbal slips.”
If there is a word we want to suppress consciously, the sub-conscious mind will work really hard to get it past our lips.
So, as speakers, how can we minimize or prevent these embarrassing slips?
First of all, pause before you speak. Get comfortable being silent for a second or two especially if you think you are in potentially dangerous territory. In our presentation skills workshops we tell people one of the hardest skills to learn is to be comfortable with silence. Silence is one of our most potent communication tools. And a pause is a great way of guarding against a slip of the tongue.
Second, wake up. Be truly conscious of what you’re saying. Focus your mind so you say exactly what you want to say.
Third, use the TalkitOut technique to prepare your speech or presentation. Rehearse your thoughts out loud as your plan your content. The more you practice what you want to say out loud, the stronger your chance of actually saying it when you are in front of an audience.
Of course there is no guarantee you still won’t make a little thunder… er, blunder, now and then.