my career as a corporate “ghost writer,” I produced a ton of speeches and
PowerPoint presentations for senior executives. The top spokespersons loved
those “ready to go” talks which they delivered from behind the podium – often
to large groups.
that has changed. Leaders today give fewer formal speeches. Instead, they are
expected to be spontaneous and authentic, and share in one-on-one or small
group situations just what they believe.
This new approach to communicating requires a new set of carefully honed
speaking has become the communication skill most in demand for leaders. And
that world of leadership now includes far more than the top executives. Today,
leadership is not determined by title or rank. It comes from your ability to
motivate others. If you can inspire your team or persuade a customer to do business
with you, you have led, and earned, the title of leader.
has become an everyday responsibility. It’s important to inspire others in
meetings, corridor conversations, and even in the cafeteria – indeed, in every
situation where you find yourself with colleagues and clients.
speaking is the new normal. Those who continue to rely on scripted texts will
disappoint their audiences. But to succeed in impromptu speaking, as with
formal speaking, requires discipline. Below are guidelines that will help you deliver
inspiring impromptu remarks.
impromptu requires that you closely read your audience – and respond to the
signals they give you. Study your listeners before
you speak. This means when you’re in a meeting, listen to what others are
saying before you start so you can build on their ideas. Next, read your
audience as you’re speaking. Size up
the people around you. If they show closed body language (arms folded, facial
frowns) or seem indifferent with blank expressions on their faces, change
gears. Ask a question or simplify your argument. Finally, after you speak, read your audience and see whether you reached
them and if not, try to figure out why.
you want to inspire others with your impromptu remarks, organize your thoughts
before you speak. Some individuals try to collect their ideas as they speak
with no clear method of doing so. This leads to “um-ing” and “aw-ing,” as well
as phrases like “what I’m trying to say is.” Without a clear structure,
impromptu remarks become a content dump.
secret to organizing your thinking is to use a mental template that allows you
to build your structure every time you speak. Here are the components of the
template I’ve developed. It’s called The Leader’s Script®:
- Begin with a “grabber” that reaches
out to your audience
- State your message (one idea in
a single sentence)
- Build a case for your message
(2-4 proof points)
- Close with a call to action (steps
you are recommending)
does this template allow you to speak with leadership? You are drawing your
audience in (grabber), sharing your idea (your message), convincing them of
that idea (through proof points), and asking them to act on that message (call
to action). If they act, you will have led. This is a powerful strategy for any
impromptu leader, and examples of how to use this template are found in my
Leading in the Moment.
others to follow you also demands that you speak with presence. Here are points
to keep in mind so the way you speak
reinforces what you say.
presence literally means being present. So
make sure that when you broach a discussion with a colleague or employee, you
both can concentrate on that topic. If you’re in the hall and you see a
colleague rushing to a meeting, it’s not a good time to raise anything.
Similarly, if you have an important discussion with an employee about work
performance, set up an appointment. Don’t give a hurried review in the
contact is critical in impromptu exchanges. By observing the people you’re
talking to, you can judge how well you are getting through to them. You can
then calibrate what you’re saying. Eye contact also shows the other person that
you care about what they are saying and are giving them the full attention they
impromptu conversations, the pace of your words is extremely important because it
determines how well you control your thinking and how well your audience
receives it. If you speak too fast—which is often the tendency when we are
talking “on the fly”—you’ll lose your audience. You’re also making it hard to
structure your thoughts. So be sure to speak slowly by (1) using a slower rate
of word delivery than you normally do and (2) pausing after each thought so the
other person can absorb it.
make sure that you know what messages your body is sending even in the most
informal impromptu exchanges. Our tendency in impromptu speaking is to be more
relaxed, and when we relax, we may slouch, fold our arms, or use distracting
gestures. Instead, realize that your body needs to be open to the conversation,
so keep your posture straight, your arms open, and your gestures moving in the
direction of your audience.
short, impromptu leadership is more important than ever before. Follow these
guidelines and you’ll succeed in this vital approach to communicating.
Moment. Previous books include Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, and Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak. She can be found at http://judithhumphrey.com and on Twitter at @judith_humphrey. For The Humphrey Group, see www.thehumphreygroup.com.
**The Leader’s Script is a trademark of The Humphrey Group