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BOOK REVIEW: How to hone your impromptu speaking skills

Feb 23 2017 05:00
Ian Mann*

Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech That Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds, by Andrii Sedniev

OVER the past five weeks, I have observed the same important executive deficit in strategy workshops I facilitated in three different countries: the unwillingness or inability to speak well off the cuff. Thinking about this, I realised how little attention we have given to impromptu speaking in the development of senior people. To put this in perspective, Amazon lists 49 books on impromptu speaking and over 16 000 on presentations.

How well people participate in meetings and workshops is a meaningful component of how they position themselves in the business’s leadership. Those who participate early and well, appear more prominent. What struck me during the workshops I facilitated was how people I knew to have extremely valuable contributions to make, failed to share them and to let others know their true worth. 

This book by Sedniev offers some help - not much unfortunately, but it does raise awareness that this is a skill that can be developed. That alone is significant.

In most groups, when a topic is raised about which a participant has a comment, the moment passes before the person has formulated their thoughts and constructed an impressive contribution. What happens in this situation, Sedniev suggests, is that “you speak to yourself, (and) the internal dialogue blocks the super-fast creative brain and activates the analytical one” which is much slower.

The internal dialogue before speaking is common to all, the only difference is that those who excel at impromptu comments know how to block it. “To achieve this,” he explains, “you simply need to accept two beliefs of the world-class impromptu speaker: “I will definitely answer a question” and “I will not always have a stellar answer.”

Based on this belief, good impromptu speakers offer their views because they have the confidence that comes from speaking impromptu often, and have acquired some techniques. This equips them to figure out the best comment once they begin. By answering with your first thought, you block the conscious thinking and activate the subconscious super-fast idea generation.

Those who think their way to a superb comment will probably never get to making one, ever. Sedniev suggests ‘just doing it’, and having broken the logjam to speaking up, you will be able to improve with time. Never starting because your contribution is not stellar, is to condemn yourself never to improve. After all, impromptu comments are never well thought through, that is their nature. It is experience that will allow what you know or believe, to flow.   

With experience, you will develop the skill of changing the direction of your answer, even several times. With experience “you can switch easily between ideas using transitions, and your speech will sound natural”.

It starts with observing the first thought rule: begin contributing “based on the first idea that pops up in your head.” As a starting point, you can pick any part of the question or assertion you like, and answer it.

Consider having the opportunity to comment on the American businessman and writer, Max De Pree’s view that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Simply making a comment on any part of that statement positions you as someone who has an opinion.

Once you are more used to participating, you can add more skill to enhance the quality of your contribution.

All great speeches have the same structure, Sedniev suggests: an opening, the body, and a conclusion. The most significant difference between a prepared speech and an impromptu comment is timing – impromptu comments are between one and three minutes long. Any longer diminishes rather than enhances the impact. 

The opening of your comment could be a statement or a succinct story. Stories have the added ability to capture the audience’s attention and make your comment more impactful and memorable. This is because our brains remember information better when it is associated with stories, visual examples or personal experiences. As such, an inexperienced speaker who uses a story is much more effective than an experienced speaker who doesn’t.

Because the impromptu comment will be short, you should convey only one point, but do it effectively.

Even if your introduction and your one-point body is good, it will still be your conclusion – your last sentences, that your listeners are most likely to retell to their friends later. The conclusion could even be a well-crafted call for your audience to do something differently after your speech.

Delivery techniques matter as much as and probably more in an impromptu comment than in a prepared address. “If you asked me what is the most powerful delivery technique in impromptu speaking, I would say, sincerity, for sure!” Sedniev opines. Your audience can always feel if you are not genuine, and they will reject your comment. Additionally, being highly energetic and passionate about your point of view is contagious.

The value to one’s career of participating in meetings early, clearly and well cannot be overlooked. But it has been.

Readability:  Light +--- Serious
Insights:       High ---+- Low
Practical:        High +---- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of the recently-released Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.


ian mann  |  opinion  |  book reviews
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