How to use free-flow writing to find your words in your business meeting in English
I am struggling to find that ‘perfect’ word. I reach into the deepest recesses of my brain but nothing.
I know I know it, but I can’t conjure it up.
I am tired of using the same bank of words when I speak, especially as I know I have a wealth of vocabulary in me.
After a long search, I find a solution.
Writing. In particular, free-flow writing.
I let my mind roam and my fingers float across the keyboard or my journal. If I can’t find a word, I allow my mind the time to reflect and explore until it finds that ‘lost’ word.
I give myself permission to make mistakes, write too much, scratch words out, try something else, rearrange my thoughts.
Little by little, my brain observes what I am doing. It absorbs the movement, the visual, the senses.
Little by little, it relocates those words to the front of my brain making retrieving it effortless when I speak.
The more I write, the better I speak. The better I communicate. The more I write, the more confident I become.
Sounds so simple, right?
And yet, I resisted this process for years.
To my mind, the sign of an eloquent, articulate and effective business communicator was to have a clearly thought-out structure, the perfect words, mistake-free grammar and smooth flow BEFORE putting pen to paper. Before giving that impromptu presentation. I had to have it all laid out in my mind.
After all, isn’t it what our bosses want? The ability to think on our feet? To articulate our message clearly, eloquently and succinctly?
But I was struggling. Every time I had to give an impromptu presentation in a meeting, I’d go blank. My mind would be working overtime and in the meantime, I’d start rambling. Saying anything and everything hoping that something would stick.
Can you imagine my poor clients? Wondering what buffoon they had in front of them. I wasn’t a buffoon. I was a highly experienced, knowledgeable investment sales advisor. I knew my stuff. It just wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to.
I never quite found a solution to my dilemma until I started this blog. Until I developed a reflection and writing habit.
It wasn’t easy, at first. I still had the mindset that I needed to have it all worked out in my mind before writing. The seamless sentence structure and the right words. Plus, it had to be executed quickly.
The result was the opposite. The more time I spent fighting with my rambling thoughts, the more time I spent staring at a blank screen. The more frustrated I became.
One day, I decided to experiment. I decided to write free-flow. I chose my topic, sketched out a brief, imperfect outline, picked my pen up and started writing.
I kept writing and writing. An hour later, I sat back and looked at the result. I had written 6 pages!
I had achieved more in 1 hour than I had ever done. Not everything made sense, but it didn’t matter. I had produced something. Wow!
Now I could go back and re-organise my thoughts, draw a line through paragraphs, scratch out sentences, review my vocabulary, give myself time to open my mental vault of hidden words and expose them to the light.
I can’t tell you how liberating it felt.
As I created a reflection and writing habit, my verbal communication improved. I found myself uttering coherent sentences, daring to pause and allow those newly-retrieved words to flow out of my mouth. And if they didn’t flow as quickly as I wanted, it didn’t matter. I knew I had them because I had used them in my writing.
This was my eureka moment.
Then I started thinking.
➜ What if you applied free-flow writing to improve how you communicated in English in your meetings or presentations or emails?
➜ What if you used free-flow writing to restore your confident self when communicating in English?
➜ What if you silenced your English teacher’s voice telling you not to open your mouth until you’ve crafted that grammar-perfect, articulate and vocabulary-rich sentence?
➜ What if you gave yourself permission to not make sense, to make mistakes, to use the wrong words, to start again?
Here’s how you could use my 5 ultra-easy-step reflection and writing process to present confidently in English in your next meeting.
Step #1: Sketch your outline.
Take the topic of your presentation.
Think about who your audience is (who), the purpose of your talk (why) and what information you need to give them (what).
It doesn’t have to be complete. A rough outline will do.
Step #2: Create a mind-map
Using your outline, create a mind-map of the main sections of your presentation.
For each section, highlight the points you want to raise in bullet form.
Step #3: Free-flow write/type each section.
Take one section at a time and using the bullet points you’ve made, start free-flow writing.
Develop your story. Don’t worry at this stage if it doesn’t make sense. All you’re doing is allowing all the thoughts you have for each point to pour out.
Forget about creating the grammar-perfect sentence. Let your words flow. If you can’t find a word immediately, give yourself time to retrieve it. If it still doesn’t come, don’t worry. Leave it for step #4.
Don’t take more than 15 minutes for each section. The idea is not to overthink.
Step #4: Creating structure and conciseness
Return the next day and review what you’ve written with fresh eyes.
At this stage, you’re focusing on structure. On making sense of your thoughts.
You’re focusing on the flow of thought. On re-organising your thoughts.
Look at what you’ve written from your audience’s perspective. Strike through the excess.
Rewrite parts. Look at the words you’ve used. With fresh eyes and a rest, you might find new words. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter.
This is the start. You’re developing a reflection and writing habit, not perfection at the first attempt.
Step #5: Polish and Practise
Now you have the structure and flow you want, you can start smoothing out the rough edges.
Ask yourself questions like:
Does the message flow?
Have I made all the points I want to make?
Can I use a word I’ve just remembered and replace the old one? (Don’t spend too much time on this.)
Practise presenting out loud. Record it and re-listen to it.
By using free-flow writing, you’ve allowed yourself to create (in the following order):
Chaos ➜ structure ➜ clarity ➜ eloquence ➜ calm ➜ confidence.
How does that feel?
Remember, you’re developing a free-flow writing habit, not perfection. Habits take time to take hold. The key is to be patient but, above all, to enjoy the process.
As free-flow writing becomes part of your process, you’ll find yourself communicating more and more confidently in English.
And the best part? You’ll be communicating with the English you already have.