146. Think Fast; Talk Smart: 4 Effective Speaking Tips In Spontaneous Situations

20 takeaways from this video:

00:00:53 How many “F”s are in this sentence?

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Most people, even the most intelligent, find 3 or even 4 “F”s. This is because most people overlook the “F” in the word “of.” There are in fact 6 “F”s in the above sentence.

00:02:35 Spontaneous, unplanned public speaking is when you are asked to speak about, or give your opinion on, a subject without prior preparation. Spontaneous presentations actually occur more often than planned speaking engagements.

Examples include giving:

  • Introductions (for yourself, your company, or somebody you know)
  • Feedback (during a meeting or after a presentation)
  • Surprise toasts at a wedding or on a special day
  • Responding to answers during a Q&A session

Your first job as a communicator is to make your audience feel comfortable because uncomfortable people won’t receive your message. You do this by managing your own anxiety.

00:04:20 Regardless of whether your speech is planned or off the cuff, your anxiety must be under control. You don’t want to overcome anxiety, but to manage it. Because anxiety is actually good for us, helping us focus and give us a sense of importance.

85% of people admit they struggle with speaking in public.

00:05:47 When asked, most people who are watching a nervous speaker feel uncomfortable and awkward as well, and so either politely nod and smile at the speaker or disengage and ignore the speaker.

00:06:53 When you begin feeling anxious before speaking, acknowledging and greeting your anxiety as a normal and natural process allows you to take control over it before it has a chance to get out of control.

00:08:24 Reframing how you see your speaking situation also helps you control your anxiety. When you perform, there is a right and a wrong way to do it: missing a musical note, forgetting a line, saying the wrong line at the wrong time, etc. You’ve made a mistake and everyone else around you and dependant upon you to get it right has now been thrown off track.

Therefore don’t look at a public presentation as “performing,” reframe your presentation instead as a conversation with your audience. You can do this by:

  1. Starting by asking your audience questions (by a show-of-hand poll or rhetorical), thus getting your audience involved
  2. Structuring your presentation notes as questions you will answer rather than bullet points you will cover.
  3. Using inclusive conversational rather than using cold, distancing professional-type language which creates a rift between you the speaker from your audience. For example: “Hello, I am really excited to be here with you this evening” and “Today we’re going to cover step 1, step 2, and step 3” are sentences which distance yourself from your audience. Creating an inclusive conversational style presentation is as easy as using pronouns: words which substitute nouns. I, you, that, me, something, he, them, it, who are examples of pronouns.
  4. Managing your orientation to time. Focus on yourself and your objectives in the present moment rather than worrying about the future consequences of failing to meet your objectives helps you control anxiety. Get yourself in the moment by concentrating on a song, doing pushups, or repeating tongue-twisters.
  5. Warm up your voice. You wouldn’t go running without first warming up your muscles. Take a few moments to warm up your voice instead of retreating inwards and thinking all these bad thoughts about yourself.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how to overcome anxiety and make your audience feel comfortable as quickly as possible, watch the lecture How to Introduce Yourself So People Want to Invest In Your Brand.]

00:16:40 When it comes to public speaking, your quest for perfection and immortality of having devised the perfect presentation are usually the first things that get in your own way.

00:18:30 Stockpiling is, as soon as you know what is expected of you, you immediately start planning what you are going to say and do in advance, so that you will have everything under control. If you analyze your ‘planned responses’ you are stockpiling, you’ll notice that your brain follows certain safe, predictable patterns it has come to trust and rely on over the course of your life in the responses it comes up with. This is useful in planned problem-solving such as having to give a speech with time to prepare and perfect it.

But in a situation where you must give a spontaneous speech, you will not be able to rely on stockpiling.

Your second job as a communicator is to reframe your spontaneous speech as an opportunity rather than a threat.

00:25:00 People become defensive and shut down when they feel attacked. Therefore in a Q&A session, it’s imperative that you not view it as a you versus the audience member putting you on the spot with a question. The Q&A session is an opportunity for you to:

  • Clarify any points you made that perhaps weren’t clear
  • Understand what your audience is thinking
  • Reiterate a point you made and want to make sure the audience doesn’t forget
  • Read your audience and understand what is important to them and how you can thus convince them
  • Correct the weaknesses in your presentation so future speeches will be more comprehensive

00:33:12 A fundamental element to the art of improvisation is not to say “Yes and…” and to never say “No but…” “Yes and…” opens up a tremendous opportunities, while “No but…” closes opportunities and shuts down imagination.

Your third job as a communicator is to slow down and listen because you cannot respond appropriately until you first understand the situation you are in.

00:34:17 As a communicator you are in service to your audience. And if you aren’t taking the time to thoroughly listen to what your audience is asking before jumping to conclusions about what you think they are saying and then give them that answer, you can’t help your audience and you damage your reputation.

Your fourth job as a communicator is to structure your speech as a story so your audience will remember it.

00:39:11 Never lose your audience.

Humans are roughly 40% better at accurately and reliably remembering information when it is structured versus when it isn’t structured. The two most popular storyline structures are:

  1. Problem or Opportunity>Solution>Benefit
  2. What is it?>Why it’s important?>What do we do now?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in his TED Talk Why You Should Be Suspicious of The Stories You Hear, Tyler Cowen warns of a few dangers that come with relying too heavily on stories are:

  • The stories you tell yourself to make sense of the world are too simple and can be summarized in as little as a sentence, such as a brand’s mission statement or unique selling point. An example of this would be conspiracy theories and ‘good versus evil.’ Nothing is merely either good OR evil, and attempting to categorize everything in such a way is an insult to the intelligence of the storyteller as much so as the person being told the story.
  • The stories can serve multiple objectives and may even be contradictory or conflicting, such as ‘getting tough’ with bankers or political parties. ‘Getting tough’ with the Nazis was a good thing; ‘getting tough’ on a convenient person or group of people without having all the information because we need a ‘face to the evil,’ isn’t.
  • We aren’t always fed the right stories and information, and humans can only fit so many stories and facts into their mind at once. Further, memories are unreliable, malleable, and often deceptive.]

00:46:20 It is ironic, but structure sets you free because you’re free to focus on the content of what you’re going to say.

00:48:23 For more information on this subject, check out:

00:49:32 When you find yourself in a hostile situation where someone challenges your answer, or worse, your intelligence; acknowledge the person’s emotion but don’t name their emotion.

If you say they are angry, and they reply “I’m not angry, I’m frustrated,” now you’re having a ridiculous argument over the person’s mental state instead of the more important issues.

Instead, reframe and explain.

00:52:50 In speaking situations where there is some planned element to it but where you are being interrogated or cross-examined, you won’t be able to memorize set terms and sentence structures which can simply be repeated. Instead, have prepared themes with supporting concrete examples and evidence that you can use to support your responses and put them together as necessary.

00:53:18 In extremely hostile situations, paraphrasing is your best reponse because it allows you to:

  • Reframe the question in a way you can more easily answer
  • Think about how you’re going to answer the paraphrased question
  • Pause and make sure you got it right and understood what was being asked of you

00:54:50 When speaking to international and intercultural audiences, you must take into account their expectations from their time spent with you.

00:56:01 Humor is a great tool for connecting your audience, but it is also very risky. Research shows that the best type of humor is self-deprecating humor: the ability to make jokes about yourself because they are the least risky.

00:57:34 A great way to get a more authentic response from a professional who has had extensive media response training is to:

  • Ask “why” several times to get past the first few layers of training
  • Ask them what advice they have for a person in a particular situation. This question changes the relationship between the media-trained speaker and yourself.

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