Thursday 13th June, 2013

Rambling – How to Stop it

PLEASE NOTE: I know that many people jump straight to this page via a Google search and that some of you may be seeking advice on how to deal with rambling because you experience social anxiety (SA). This page contains only very general advice that may not be suitable or helpful to you. If you believe that SA may be the root cause of your tendency to ramble I strongly recommend that you seek the support of a cognitive behavioural therapist. CBT can be a great way to explore the root causes of SA-related rambling. The blog post that follows is primarily aimed at people who do not experience SA per se but who have become aware that they ramble when they speak in public.


When addressing an audience, every word you choose to use can have a powerful effect on the people listening to you, on either a conscious or unconscious level. Your words can – literally – change people’s minds.

Talk too much, however, and your message can become diluted, so diluted that it becomes lost and you might as well have said nothing at all.

There are two kinds of rambling (or waffling) public speakers. Those who know they ramble and those who don’t. Realise. They ramble.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that your rambling has been brought into your awareness by a disgruntled or helpful colleague or audience member or perhaps the penny dropped all on its own.

What is rambling?

Rambling is ‘speaking without purpose’.

Why do you ramble?

People ramble for different reasons:

  • Nerves may cause you to lose your train of though. You keep on talking in the hope the train will come back to you;
  • You don’t want to lose the floor! Politicians are frequent ramblers. In politics, keeping control of the floor is very important as it prevents the opposition from having their say. Listen to Parliamentary debates and you will hear some MPs rambling on – now you know why!
  • You started speaking before you had decided what you were going to say;
  • You started speaking, knew what you were going to say, but as you were talking a voice in your own mind distracted you;
  • You’ve made the same speech many times before. After you had begun speaking you got confused about where you were in your speech and were overcome with a sense of deja vu;
  • You started speaking and all was goig well until someone in the audience gave you a disparaging look. This is where it all feel apart and you lost your way, so you rambled in an attempt to find your way back.

Of these six potential reasons for why bad rambling happens to good people, number three is the most common. This is great news, because it’s also the easiest to address.

How to avoid rambling

There is a very simple solution to the problem of rambling. However, it involves preparation on your part.

A technique known as ‘mental rehearsal’ is the best weapon against rambling.

Before attending any meeting or event where you know you might be required to speak ‘off-the-cuff’, set aside some time, on your own, to think about the message you intend to get across.

When you are sure what your message is, jot it down in a notebook.

Now look at your message and ask yourself ‘how can I say this with the greatest possible impact?’

Next, re-write your message, using high-impact, memorable language, taking care to put your message across as succinctly (in as few words) as possible.

Now, rehearse, either out loud or in your mind. When you’re happy that your message sounds great, rehearse it a few more times and jot down the final wording that you’ve chosen in your notebook.

Putting it into practice

When you arrive at the event, take another look at your notebook to remind yourself of how you’re going to express your message. When the opportunity comes, say what you’ve planned to say in the way you’ve planned to say it and no more. Resist the temptation to ‘hold the floor’ and sit back down when you’ve said what you’ve intended to say. You have just been eloquent and to-the-point – it makes no sense to dilute your message by out-staying your welcome!

It is a really good idea to do mental rehearsal as a matter of routine, even if you have no particular speaking opportunity coming up. If you are well-practiced then you will be able to make the most of any unexpected opportunities to speak on occasions that were unplanned but where your message needs to be heard.

Tip: Mental rehearsal is a crucial skill used by campaigners. Regular rehearsal of messages ensures campaigners are always ready to speak at any opportunity. If you want to be associated with a particular message, then master mental rehearsal and people will begin to regard you as ‘the voice’ of a particular issue.

Categories: How to, Words


  1. hayley says:

    sound great but how do I stop rambling in a conversation? I ramble in front of my friends a lot and the get bored and start ignoring me!!! please help!!!!!!

    • Jez says:

      I’ve just come off a phone call where I caught myself rambling…

      I realised a reason I ramble is because I don’t listen hard enough. I have to really ask, “What is the nub of the question I’m being asked”, or “What is the key thread of this conversation?” – before I start speaking. I can then focus on giving the answer directly. If some backstory is needed, I can do that afterwards. And if I’m not sure what the answer is, I can say “I’m not sure right now – some thoughts are X, Y, Z – what do you think?”.

      On this call, I forgot this, and went back to boring the pants off the person on the other end of the line.

      • Julie Howell says:

        Hi Jez, this is very insightful. Listening is a much under-rated skill. There’s a great book by Rob Kendall entitled ‘Blamestorming’ with a chapter entitled ‘Listen, don’t prepare to speak’. Rob argues that when we’re in a conversation we tend to either be speaking or thinking about what we’re going to say next. At no point are we truly listening to the other person! I think he’s absolutely right and you have also noticed this.

        I definitely do this myself and I make a conscious effort now to stop listening to my internal dialogue when someone else is speaking and start tuning in to what they’re actually saying to me. It’s not as easy as it sounds!

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