What do you do when you have a moment’s notice to speak? It could be an unexpected hallway meeting, sudden phone call, or other speaking occasions that you have no time to prepare for. You could be called upon to pitch that startup you’ve been working on for years in a chance meeting with Tony Elumelu, for example.
These five strategies can help you speak with power at a moment’s notice. And they also work for more formal speaking situations.
- Give yourself a structure to start with
Getting back on the right foot is infinitely harder than starting off on it. One way to ensure a strong start is to incorporate the questions you’re asked into the beginning of your answers. For example, if someone asks you a “Why?” question, start off by saying, “One of the reasons why . . .”
What’s more, a simple response can help keep you on track as you go on. You’ll know where to go next (“Another one of the reasons why . . .”) without losing your train of thought or precision.
- Have a story or two in your back pocket
When you’re asked to make your point off the cuff, telling a story can add clarity and color. And yes, on a good day, you might be able to drum up a great story spontaneously. But if you want to make your ideas memorable every time you’re asked to share them, you’ll need to have a story or two lined up and ready to go.
- Don’t try to be profound
Churchill you are not. And that’s fine. But many of us venture to leave the sidelines only when Churchillian moments hit us, and when we do, we wind up sounding like blowhards. So while you don’t want to occupy airtime for its own sake, it probably isn’t the best idea to wait until you have something really significant to say before speaking up.
- Make eye contact, and maintain it
You need to make consistent eye contact to project confidence, particularly in spontaneous situations. Their unplanned, usually informal nature leads many of us to be more lax with our eye movements. But you need to discipline your gaze the same way you would in a more formal setting.
- Know you won’t be perfect
One of the reasons you may loathe spontaneous, in-person communication is because you’re terrified of messing up. This is a common theme in Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In it, Turkle explains that many people “actively want to avoid the spontaneity of conversation” and prefer “the edited life” that digital communication now affords us.
You’ll sound far more engaging if you speak naturally than if you try to curate every word you say—even if you slip up a bit. Relax, and speak from the heart.
Adapted from FAST COMPANY