Dale Carnegie once wrote that “the ability to assemble one’s thoughts and to speak on the spur of the moment is even more important, in some ways, than the ability to speak only after lengthy and laborious preparation.”
And I agree.
Whether you are attending an interview for a new job; having to stand-in and give a presentation for a colleague who has gone off sick, providing a team with a status update as to how the current work schedule is progressing; or simply making a toast at a friend’s party, there are countless scenarios once can face in both their career and personal life that will require an off-the-cuff monologue. In a world where important decisions are now made in team meetings rather than by one head honcho, and in which people are required to be contactable 24/7 for any urgent matters (I mean God forbid that report isn’t handed in at 9am tomorrow! The world might implode), being able to speedily gather our thoughts and converse them fluently and succinctly serves to produce incredible results. It truly is a skill that will make you stand out from the crowd, gain the attention of others, and open doors to bigger and brighter things…
But the usual complaints of “oh, he’s got the gift of the gab”, or “she can talk her way out of anything” still flutter about with envy like nothing can be done to change such ‘talents’. As I said above though, impromptu speaking is a ‘skill’, and like all ‘skills’ it can be leant, built upon, and grown. Here are my five tips to start training yourself in this fine art and develop what some would describe as a ‘Million Dollar Mouthpiece’:
- Anticipate Scenarios In Which You May Be Required To Speak Up
- If you are in a meeting and there is the possibility that you might be called upon to say a few words, run through your head how you would respond to such request. Making yourself consciously aware of these potential situations will eliminate the startled shock and probable stuttering that comes with trying to comprehend a question whilst simultaneously forming an answer.
- Speak from Within
- The chances are that if you do have to give an impromptu talk in work or at a social event you will have at least some element knowledge on the subject matter in question. Your Boss isn't just going to turn around and start quizzing you on sixteenth century Elizabethan embroidery. Either way, people’s ‘Bullshit detectors’ are pretty damn good nowadays so don’t go making stuff up. Stick to speaking about what you know, no matter how basic the restraints, using examples to illustrate your points and give them more clarity.
- Don’t Waffle.
- Be succinct and to the point. Try to avoid long-winded explanations and sentences that will most likely lead you off-track. You’re not doing a 30 minute key note speech here and it’s best to save your free association censor-less drawl for the psychiatrist’s chair. Structure your talk around two of three key points and ensure that you never deviate too far from these core elements.
- Be Dynamic
- Nothing will switch an audience off faster than a speaker who looks bored by their own topic. Charge yourself up and express passion and drive through your words and actions. This will both loosen yourself into the talk more easily and aid in getting your points across more fluidly. If appropriate, also consider using props or audience participation to liven up the room.
- Experience breeds competence which breeds confidence. Simply, the more you give impromptu talks the more comfortable you will become in your ability.
- A little tale I read which brings out the sheer power of this final point comes ironically from none other than the greatest silent film star to ever have lived. Every night for almost two years, Charlie Chaplin would immerse himself in a game of wits with his peers Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (then husband and wife). They would each write random subject headings on strips of paper and fold them up into a bowl, rather like a game of charades. Each would then take it in turns to draw a topic and immediately start talking about it for the next 60 seconds. If they stuttered it was game over; if they repeated themselves it was game over; and if they paused for too long it was game over. Fairbanks once wrote in a magazine piece that to them “it was more than a game. It was practice in that most difficult of all speaking arts – thinking on one’s feet… We are learning to assemble our knowledge and thoughts on any topic at a moment’s notice.”
Once too timid and shy to even dictate passages from a textbook in the school classroom, through reading up on the art of speaking, conversing with myriad strangers through business and travel, and implementing the 5 points above, I am now able to take advantages of opportunities I would once have run a country mile.
From creating ad-lib responses during a Q&A session in London’s Savoy Hotel to a packed room of high net-worth individuals, to giving a presentation on the benefit of University Exchange Programmes to an entire lecture hall of business students, my ability to think on my feet has provided some fantastic growth opportunities and introduced me to some amazing people I would otherwise have never met.
What could crushing that next speech or presentation do for your life?