One of the skills that you should hone is the ability to stand up and speaking extemporaneously. The reality is that there are going to be far more opportunities for you to make a spontaneous remark, or speech, or introduction, then there will be to prepare a presentation, rehearse it and have slide support.
But, how do you develop that skill?
Practice and structure. Structures are concepts that allow you to put your thoughts into a template to help frame your remarks. Here’s a simple one. If I have to give a toast, I already know I’m going to say the following:
- Isn’t this a great celebration?
- Thanks to the hosts for throwing it.
- Congratulations to the honoree
I know if someone asks me for an overview of something I’m involved in, for example, how is teaching at Harvard, I’m going to use this handy structure:
Which translates to:
- Opportunity: This was a great opportunity for me. I love teaching. I love helping people get better at their communications skill. And, from a business standpoint, it’s not so bad to be associated with Harvard.
- Solution: I teach the class using the same style that I use in workshops. I throw out a few key concepts but the main work is getting people to stand and deliver multiple presentations and get plenty of feedback.
- Benefit: It’s great to watch people improve right before your eyes. It’s personally rewarding for me.
A Structure for When Things Go Wrong
Here’s an example of speaking about a difficult situation and a how structure can save the day: Recently one of my friends was personally involved in an unpleasant incident and asked me for advice of how to handle it. I love the ‘3Rs’ structure that some PR people use:
In other words:
- Regret: “I can’t tell you how much I regret what happened, and in particular how much I feel for the other person’s family that had to go through these challenges”
- Reason: “As best as I can tell, here is what happened.”
- Repair: “Here’s what I am going to do to make sure this never happens again.”
Finally, a standard no-fail structure is the use of rhetorical questions to frame your remarks from the onset. There are 3 kinds of rhetorical remarks you can use:
- Basic Rhetorical question
- Polling question
- What-if question
For example, you are asked to speak about the effort in your company to cut energy waste.
- Try a basic rhetorical question: “Would we all agree that cutting energy waste is the right thing to do?”
- Or a polling question: “How many people here make an effort to cut energy waste at home? How many people think we should be doing it here at work?”
- Or a what-if question: “What if there were a way for a company like ours to cut energy waste by 30%. Do you think we should attempt it even though it will mean all of us will have to sacrifice to make this happen?”
Now you’re off and running, ready to go into the specifics:
“I’m happy to tell you that we were able to cut energy 37% and most of you probably didn’t even know you were helping, because it was so easy to do. We achieved it because:
- You shut off lights when you left the room,
- You turned your computer off at night,
- We started recycling bottles and papers,
Practice is the Key
All of these little tricks work, but only become helpful if you practice. Now, you might say that you seldom get chances to speak extemporaneously, but my guess is that you always have opportunities to speak off the cuff, you just don’t realize you’re doing so. And, you don’t need to just use them in the office. There are countless times you speak off the cuff in social and family situations. The next time you see the opportunity, seize it and play around with one of these structures.
Speaking spontaneously will do wonders for your career. You’ll be seen as the go-to person and regarded with more esteem. The more you use these structures, the better and more confident you will become.