Talking Too Much And Too Quickly When You're Nervous
If you think of someone who's nervous in social situations you probably imagine them as being quiet and inhibited. That's often the case, but some people have the opposite problem when they're anxious: They talk too much. They speak really quickly. They ramble. A part of them realizes they've got verbal diarrhea, but they can't get themselves to stop. They say dumb things without thinking, and beat themselves up over it later.
Here are some ways to deal with that issue. I'm going to focus on when you speak too much and too fast in day to day conversations, not speeches or job interviews, though many of the ideas below will apply to them as well.
Figure out what situations set off your nervous babbling
You likely don't anxiously speak a mile a minute around everyone. The first step is to pay attention and get a better sense of when the problem crops up. What combination of people and context makes you talk too much? Here are some common ones:
- Meeting new people in general
- Being asked personal questions
- Talking to people who intimidate you in some way
- Talking to people you think don't like you
- Meeting people you believe you have to impress by being really funny, smart, or interesting
- Experiencing an awkward silence
- Being in a hectic group conversation
- Telling a story
- Describing a concept to someone
- Explaining a mistake you made
- Asserting yourself
- Disagreeing with someone
- Thinking you've made someone mad and that you need to smooth things over
- Telling someone something where you're scared to hear their reply (so you keep talking to delay that moment)
So someone might have no problem chatting to their friends about everyday stuff, but if they believe they've messed up and offended one of them, they'll get flustered and start talking quickly and less-coherently as they try to apologize and patch things up.
Use general methods to reduce your anxiety
If you can lower your anxiety in the moment, even a bit, it will remove some of the nervous energy that's compelling you to talk too fast and inarticulately. You could do some slow, deep breathing to center yourself, or try to mindfully sit with your anxious sensations and let them pass. I can't fit an entire anxiety reduction course into one paragraph, but this section of the site goes into more detail.
Examine the beliefs that feed your urge to anxiously ramble
Fast-paced babbling can come purely from having anxious energy. For some people nerves cause their brains to lock up, and they have trouble thinking of things to say. For others being jittery fills their mind with thoughts, along with an urge to say them right now.
However, there are often assumptions and beliefs that tie into talking too quickly. If you can identify any of these beliefs you hold, then submit them to some scrutiny, you may feel less need to go on and on and on when you're nervous. Again, here are some common ones:
- "When I feel nervous and on the spot the best thing to do is rush out what I want to say and get it over with."
- "Any silence in a conversation is terrible and must be filled. Filling it with inarticulate, hard-to-follow rambling is better than nothing."
- "More is better in conversations - More jokes, more comments, more observations, more of everything."
- "People will only like me if I'm ultra-funny and interesting. The best way to accomplish that is to bombard them with jokes or opinions."
- "The faster someone talks, the smarter or wittier they seem."
- "If a conversation isn't going well the best way to recover is to talk, talk, talk and hope I say something that turns it around."
- "The best way to explain a concept or topic is to cram as much information as possible into the time I have. I won't seem authoritative if I only say a sentence or two."
- "People won't understand my argument or story unless I go over every last piece of it."
- "If I've wronged someone the best way to recover is to rapidly explain myself in lots of detail."
- "People love to interrupt, so if I get a chance to speak I have to say as much as I can before I get cut off."
- "People will think I'm rude or don't like them if I'm not always talking."
- (This one may be unconscious) "When I'm talking I don't have time to notice I'm nervous. It's only when I'm silent that I can tune into how jittery I feel. So I should jabber on as much as I can."
Some counterproductive beliefs lose their power soon after you become aware of them, apply some basic skepticism, and stop unquestionably following them ("Wait, why did I always assume that More = Better when explaining myself? Of course I shouldn't overwhelm people with information.") Others beliefs will still feel true after analyzing them, even if you logically know they're false. But by being aware of them you now have the option of deciding to act against what they're telling you, even if it feels wrong on some level ("My gut is still telling me I have to talk a lot to be likable, but I'm going to slow down anyway.")
Get more comfortable with the situations that set off your nervous babbling
Does a lull in a conversation make you really uneasy? Do you get an irresistible urge to say something, anything to fill the dead air, even if it means people are going to think you have verbal diarrhea? You can work to gradually get used to the situations that trigger your nerves. If you hate awkward silences, try sitting with one for a moment before trying to break it. You'll likely realize the awkwardness won't destroy you, and that someone else may say something before long.
Become more skilled in the situations that cause you to anxiously talk too much
You're less likely to get nervous in the first place in a situation if you know how to navigate it. To continue with the awkward silence example, if you know lots of ways to keep a conversation going or gracefully deal with a lull if one occurs, you have less reason to feel everything's gone wrong, then talk, talk, talk in an ill-fated attempt to to fix the damage.
Figure out if there are any other factors that may be contributing to your tendency to talk too quickly, ramble, or speak without thinking
This article is about nervous babbling, but other things sometimes cause people to speak too fast, not be concise, or put their foot in their mouth.
Personal background / circumstances
- Coming from a family where everyone interrupted or talked over each other, so you learned to speak quickly to get your point out
- Speaking a first language that has a faster pace than English
- You don't get many opportunities to express yourself or share your opinions, so when you get a chance you tend to unload them all at once
Developmental and mental health conditions
- Having ADHD
- Being on the autism spectrum
- Having Bipolar Disorder and being in a manic phase
- Having too much caffeine
- Being drunk
- Taking stimulant street drugs like cocaine
You can't directly do something about all of these, but change what you can. Like you may realize you're more likely to speak rapid fire when you've drank too much coffee. Or if you find the right ADHD medication you may find you're better at putting your thoughts together.
Practice speaking more slowly
It sounds too straightforward, but one of the best ways to learn to speak less quickly is to make a deliberate effort to slow down:
- Take a moment before speaking to remind yourself to go slower
- As you're speaking, consciously try to talk at about half the speed you usually do
- Breathe and pause for a second or two after each sentence
- If possible use physical aids to force yourself to take pauses, like taking a sip of your water
- Try to slow down your gestures as well
- Adopt a thoughtful, reflective posture, as opposed to an excited, animated one, to help get your mind into a slower mode
- If you really talk quickly, focus on enunciating each syllable and leaving a space between words.
You don't have to start practicing in real conversations. You can begin by recording yourself on your phone or computer. After that you could role play with a friend, family member, or therapist.
Talking more slowly feels forced and unnatural at first, but you get used to it. Even when you're distracted by your nerves, you can learn to speak at a more natural pace. Keep at it, go easy on yourself, and don't expect to do everything perfectly the first time.
Practice being more concise
One facet of nervous babbling is talking too quickly. The other is going on and on and on. You can also work at being more concise.
- Again, it seems overly simple, but just go into social situations knowing you have a tendency to ramble, and have the intent to be more succinct.
- Before you speak, take a few seconds to think about what points you want to get across. No, you can't perfectly plan things on the spot, but sometimes even taking a moment to think, "What do I want to say here? What points do I want to hit?" can make a difference. That's better than speaking off the cuff and not going anywhere. Once you've delivered your points, stop.
- Give yourself limits on how much you can speak. You can set a time limit, like "don't talk for more than a minute before giving someone else a turn". You can also limit yourself to a handful of sentences each time you speak. You can even make a game out of it, like seeing if you can keep a conversation going while only saying a sentence at a time.
- Focus on creating a back and forth conversation, rather than a series of monologues. Try to say a sentence or two, then ask the other person a question to pass the ball to them, or simply stop speaking and give them a chance to comment on what you said.
- Focus on other people's nonverbal signs of listening and interest. If they seem engaged, know you can keep going, though that's still not permission to stay in the spotlight forever. If they start looking distracted and fidgety, that's a sign to wrap it up. Note that these kinds of signals usually don't mean someone hates you and thinks you're a total bore. It's that everyone's attention starts to slip once they've been listening for a while, and they'd like their turn to speak.
- Loosely prepare what you're going to say for routine topics. For example, a few sentences at most describing your job, for when someone asks what you do for work. You just want a rough outline that will keep you from rambling endlessly. Don't try to memorize a word-for-word script, as that can sound unnatural and make you feel pressured to perfectly perform your material.
Ask people you know to point out when you're talking too fast or for too long
You can tell them you want to work on your habit of nervously rambling, and you'd appreciate it if they politely signaled to you when you're speaking too quickly or going on and on without getting to the point.
Learn to be a good sport and apologize if you start rambling or speaking too quickly
This won't improve your tendency to nervously babble at the root, but it can take some pressure off if you know that if you start doing it you can gracefully recover. If you catch yourself anxiously talking too much, stop, then make a casual, matter of fact comment like:
- "Sorry, I'm talking too fast, aren't I?"
- "Ha ha, I lost track of what I wanted to say."
- "Sorry, I'm rambling. Give me 30 more seconds and I'll quickly finish my story."
- "Wow, I just gave way too many details. Is there anything you want me to go over again?"
After that, move on, and try to slow down. If you make a quick apology people will tend to accept it and get back to the conversation. You don't need to make a huge production out of how much you think you screwed up.