Impromptu speaking in business settings can be the most important and influential verbal communication you will ever undertake. This applies in face-to-face and virtual discussions; and internally as well as externally. However, I have seen people botch this too often. They either don’t prepare sufficiently for the meeting (especially internally), or they may not speak up. It is all-too-easy to fall into the trap of thinking the agenda doesn’t involve you directly, but the talk may swing your way. Not making a worthwhile contribution, even with informal remarks, can cause executive management to have doubts about your effectiveness, which may obstruct your career progress.
All people who hold a managerial or supervisory role are called on to speak on an impromptu or off-the-cuff basis. And team members are expected to speak up in your own team meetings as well in cross-collaboration meetings with people from other departments. Unless you have a flexible response or formula to use in these situations, you are likely to feel discomfort and look under pressure to others. Some examples:
Speaking spontaneously is a different skill from prepared speaking. However, it can be just as important as a prepared speech or presentation – possibly even more important.
During your career, executives will evaluate your qualities partly on the contribution you make at meetings. If you don’t say anything, especially when others believe you have the knowledge that others should listen to, many people will assume you are short-changing yourself. They will under-estimate your abilities and view you in that light in future. They might think you are an introvert and therefore unlikely to go higher up the ladder of leadership.
With a little preparation and practice, you can overcome the problem of not speaking up. If you handle your communication in those improvised interactions – your confident voice, your conversational tone, your concise answer – you will build trust from others.
Why is off-the-cuff speaking so hard? One major cause of not speaking up is not having enough time to prepare. People don’t necessarily have a framework for handling impromptu speaking, so they simply say whatever is on their mind, for better or worse.
Fortunately, there are frameworks for speaking off the cuff, and you can practice for those situations:
One reason people don’t get better at speaking off-the-cuff or impromptu speaking is that they avoid the situation as much as possible. But this is like any other skill – you get better at it by doing it. So don’t blend into the wallpaper at your next meeting; don’t 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.
The best way to deal with unexpected opportunities to speak up is to practice for those situations. Get a colleague to ask you rapid questions, and give you feedback on your responses.
Practice the techniques noted below so you can feel comfortable about speaking on the spot. You can think of questions relating to your business discipline, and you can also find lists of general topics to use for practice.
If an emailed notice of a meeting has been given, including the agenda items, make a note of a question or a point you could raise in almost every item, or at least the main ones (without becoming tiresome!). This is an opportunity to ask sensible question that increase your knowledge and smarten up your interactions with others – in a positive way. You could even use such questions in a facilitation mode – you ask the person speaking on an issue enough follow-up questions that they can think through the answer to their own problem.
If you’re due to attend a meeting about a particular issue, and an agenda paper has not been provided, ask yourself: “What is my goal for this meeting, and what would I like to say? Jot down a few ideas down, and practice speaking them out loud so you can readily speak up at the meeting.
Toastmasters International use a technique that is easy to learn and easy to use in nearly any professional setting.
It’s called PREP, which stands for: Point, Reason, Example, Point:
Here’s an example of PREP in response to the question, “What is the best time of day to pitch a story to a reporter?”
You can use that easy framework for any subject.
You can also use a transition phrase to give yourself time to think of an answer or to think of a response angle to the question that suits you better. Here’s are some transition phrases to guide your audience:
Having planned the structure of your comments, you can focus on the start and end. For instance, you can write/say the following, using the past, present, future option:
“Thank you for asking me to speak to you about [the problem]. To put this in context, I’m going to take you through the journey that is happening. Firstly, we will go back in time to see how it started, then we will consider the current situation, and lastly we will move forward to consider what future solutions might be available.”
Dale Carnegie, famous author on public speaking and presentations, suggested three ways of beginning your comments:
Take a deep breath. Don’t make the mistake of starting to speak before you have gathered your thoughts. In most cases you can’t ask for a 5-minute recess while you get your act together, but a deep breath gives you a few moments to think and calm down. This 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. Look around the room. Make eye contact with 1-2 others in the meeting. (But don’t breathe too obviously, or they will see you are nervous!)
Your audience is much more likely to listen if you stick to your points and don’t ramble. When you speak off the cuff, pay attention to the time you are taking up. Many people tend to ramble when they are unprepared, as they try to think of better ways to say the same thing. Develop an internal timer so you become aware of when you’ve been talking too long. If you’ve been rambling, use “That’s why I believe…” to restate your main point, and quickly conclude.
When you speak off the cuff, you don’t have time to remember several points. And you water down your message by taking on too many points. Just select one key message, and deliver it with an example. You can add a counterpoint as well to demonstrate other sides of an issue, but stick to one key message.
Don’t try to think as you go. Make a few bullet point notes and think of transitions from one point to the next.
As your comments will be short, you don’t want to be interrupted, so tell the audience you will be pleased to answer questions when you finish.
Bad timing is the single biggest reason journalists reject media pitches. A total of 25% of journalists participating in the
Your organization’s employer brand is a major reason why new employees join rather than going to another employer. Astute employers
Effective teams are the key to the success of every organization. The right teams of professionals give organizations a higher