If you are a gaffe-prone person in a public position, it’s important to learn how to control your tongue. Most people who make verbal faux pas don’t do so on purpose. They’re impulsive. They speak their mind. They don’t consider the wider implications of what they say. They speak in nonspecific ways that can be misconstrued. Whatever the source of your common misstatements, it’s important to learn how to speak in a way that doesn’t cause you problems later. Here are some ways to do just that.

  • Record and Listen Back to Your Speeches. It’s important to take stock of what works and what doesn’t in your own speech. Just like a professional golfer will spend time poring over a video of his or her swing, you’ve got to break down the issues with your speaking and correct them. Reputation management tools are a great asset, especially when combined with insightful perspectives from friends, colleagues, and professionals who understand you, your message, and how to improve outcomes.
  • Don’t Listen to the Hype. If you work in the public eye, chances are that media attaches itself to certain statements you’ve made in the past. It’s important not to use media accounts to make personal adjustments, at least as a primary resource. Instead, work with your team to develop a holistic understanding about your public verbiage as it pertains to your core mission. Consider hiring a media coach to elevate your skills to the next level if your job requires frequent media contact.
  • Speak More Slowly. If you are the kind of person who speaks faster than you think, you can improve your effectiveness simply by slowing down. Don’t let words pour out of your mouth if they haven’t been approved by the sensible part of your brain. If this seems unnatural, practice at home. Read a paragraph out loud. Now practice slowing down, and thinking about the meaning of every line as you say it, instead of just spitting out the sounds of the words. This way you can develop the skill of simultaneously thinking and talking.
  • Prepare More Carefully. While most public speakers like to be natural and genuine in their delivery, it can help to work from a script or at least some carefully prepared talking points. It’s easy to make mistakes when you improvise, and it takes a masterful person in public life who can always make the right spontaneous decisions in spoken word. Intentionally restrain yourself from breaking from script until you learn the skills necessary to be nimble in your improvised talking points.
  • Pass the Buck. If you aren’t good at public speaking, is there someone else who can do it for you? You may actually be a liability to your group or business. If this is so, have the self-awareness and humility to step out of the spotlight in favor of someone who can do more good for your cause.

If you make frequent social gaffes by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, it’s important that you find a way to change this habit. Fortunately, there are tried and true methods to retrain your brain and say only what needs to be said.