Have you ever found yourself in a situation like these?
You are sitting in the meeting, when your boss’ boss asks you – “what do you think?”
Or you are asked to stand and share your thoughts on a topic you haven’t considered before or weren’t prepared to discuss.
If you have, you’d likely agree that they aren’t your favorite moments of your day.
After all, public speaking, especially when you are unprepared or the pressure is on, isn’t most people’s idea of fun. Yet having the ability to articulate your thoughts and think on your feet is a valuable skill not only to answer the question posed to you, but to communicate your confidence and competence to others.
So how can you do it better?
Take a deep breath. The first mistake people make is starting to speak before they have gathered their thoughts. In most cases you can’t ask for a five minute recess while you get your act together, but a deep breath gives you a second to think, calms you down, and actually makes you appear more in control of the situation. The pause lets people see that you really heard the question and are considering it carefully. Take a deep breath and think about your strategy.
Determine a key point. While taking your breath, determine the key idea that you want to communicate and lead with it. Open your comments by making your key point or using an example or analogy that drives directly to that point. Now is not the time to be obtuse or to beat around the bush. Clarity is your goal. When you are immediately clear it shows to others and improves your communication success.
Remember your three point plan. When you know and use the simple plan for communication, you are half way there (and begin any of these situations with more confidence). You’ve heard it before, but your comments should follow the opening/body/closing plan. You may have heard it as “Tell them what you are going to tell them/tell them/tell them what you told them.” It is a cliché because it works. In your instant of preparation think about your key message and then use this plan.
Put yourself in the position. One reason people don’t get better at speaking off-the-cuff or impromptu is that they avoid the situation as much as possible. This is like any other skill – you get better at it by doing it. Don’t blend into the wallpaper at your next meeting. You don’t have to wait to be asked to share your impromptu thoughts! Practice this important skill and you will communicate that you are proactive and engaged in your work – a pretty good combination.
Join Toastmasters. One of the best ways to practice this skill is by joining a Toastmasters Club. Toastmasters International has clubs around the world dedicated to helping people build their communication and leadership skills in a low-threat environment. While all clubs have their own personality and overall approach, in every case, some attendees are asked to give impromptu remarks at every meeting. The supportive nature of the meetings, low pressure and varied opportunities to speak make Toastmasters a fabulous way to learn and practice the skills of impromptu speaking (and prepared presentations too).
Observe the success of others. Watch others who do this well and emulate and learn from them. Tonight will be the third Presidential debate, and while the candidates will have prepared massively for the anticipated questions (similarly, you could prepare to anticipate situations in important meetings as well), there will be lessons you can learn from them about how to do this well. I’m confident you will see both candidates apply the first three points in this article very well. (If you would like to intentionally learn more leadership and communication lessons from the Presidential Election, sign up for my upcoming teleseminar). The opportunities go far beyond a debate – consider those in the meetings you attend, or watch any television news program and watch how highly effective communicators answer questions – and learn from the masters.
These six suggestions will help you succeed in these uncomfortable and sometimes unsettling communication opportunities. And make no mistake, building this skill will make you more successful in those uncomfortable moments and build your confidence not only in those moments but in all important and pressure-packed communication situations.
Beyond the moment though you will be communicating more than your message on the topic – you will be communicating your value, knowledge and overall confidence.