Executive Careers Blog

Lost Your Train Of Thought - What Can You Do?


It happens everyday.

You’re in the middle of a sentence – you could be giving a presentation, leaving a voice mail, talking to yourself – and you lose your train of thought. Maybe you didn’t have a train; maybe you had a caboose.

What should you do?

Recently Caroline Kennedy, author of seven books, and a serious contender for the U.S. Senate seat from New York, said, “you know” 142 times during an interview with the NY Times (source: British Daily Telegraph).

Although repetition can be a powerful rhetorical device – and besides, who doesn’t occasionally feel like saying the same thing 142 times? – this was not a winning moment.

Did you ever do anything like this? If you’re saying, “you know,” you may not know. Let’s assume you’ve got some unconscious habits.

So the first step is to get feedback.

Ask a trusted colleague if you’re doing anything unpleasant when you speak, or videotape your next presentation, or get some coaching.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using a filler word like "um” every now and then. In fact, if you never ever say words like “um,” your listeners will peg you as scripted and robotic.

But, instead of um, why not substitute a real word? Try “well,” “and,” or “so.”

Even better: Pause. Take a breath. Your audience won’t mind. It turns out that one of the most interesting things you can do, as a speaker, is to stop speaking.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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