Become Spontaneous in Three Days. Guaranteed.

Posted by jlubans on February 26, 2019

Caption: Not off to a good start.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying “it usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
Mr. Twain’s drollery is apt. Impromptu, according to Merriam-Webster means something “made, done, or formed on or as if on the spur of the moment.” In other words, spontaneous, unrehearsed.
Most of us fear public speaking. Worse, we fear being asked to deliver impromptu remarks. Given a choice between being caged up with a dozen rats or having to talk off the cuff to a dozen people, I’d take the cage.
Once, when I was a job candidate, I was asked to talk about the issues in our industry. This “request” came from the man who would be my boss were I to get the job and he made it as we entered a full staff meeting. “You wouldn’t mind would you?” he asked.
While I did get off a one liner - re how the stock market report was on the local paper’s comics page – I managed to cobble together a few random thoughts. Kind of like the young lady depicted above.
I did wonder why the boss waylaid me that way. Perhaps so I could display how well organized my mind was.
If anything my remarks showed a certain creative disorganization reminding me of the way I compose written essays.
First I sketch out rough notes and ideas, many irrelevant; second, I edit, add, delete, elaborate concepts and ideas and, thirdly I begin to write a first written draft which I will go over and reflect upon before finishing. It's a messy highly personal process, not something ready for prime time, as they say.
I did not get the job but that was more than OK since I had lost interest and had reservations about this boss. I assume leaders who want people who can “think on their feet” would be OK with followers who can organize clichés and unoriginal ideas into a coherent, yet uninspired statement of issues.
I know of only a few peers who, when asked to, could actually hold forth originally and coherently for 20 or more minutes.
In the spirit of Mark Twain, The Wall Street Journal advises the ambitious among us to be prepared, like a Boy Scout, for the inevitable request for impromptu remarks.
How do you prepare? Figure out what you might be asked and then rehearse a focused answer. Expect to be asked “What do you believe are the most important challenges for us coming up and what would you do about them?”
Have that impromptu talk in your pocket.
According to the WSJ you should have a brief structure in mind when you are asked for off the cuff remarks. “One approach is to state the problem, describe the solution and summarize the benefits. Or, frame your thoughts with the 3 Whats: what, so what, now what?” Create a mental road map — stating the issue or topic, explaining why it matters and laying out next steps.
The 3 Whats are a way to ask yourself questions and to answer them in your remarks.
Be sure, we are told, to express how delighted you are to have the opportunity to talk with this group. Tell them that the sweat on your brow and your knocking knees are signs of excitement, not of anxiety.
In my alluded to interview, I should have remarked that my wide, nervous grin was a sign of how honored I was to be among such an esteemed group.
Better, if I can remember to do it, is to turn the tables on the group. Asking them for input on what the issues are can be a useful way to show yourself as a collaborative person, as someone who listens and wants to hear, as someone who involves others in his thinking. Best of all, start a conversation and you may be amazed at how much competent people enjoy being asked for their views.
What I should have done in my interview was to return the favor to the boss. After presenting an array of issues, I should have asked the big cheese for his thoughts; does he have areas that need special emphasis?
Yes, you may embarrass the boss, but then again that person will get the message you know what he was doing by putting you on the spot.
If you believe you have truly been ambushed, well, why would you want to work for an organization or an individual who behaves that way?
Maybe you’ve gotten a sneak preview on how this boss treats people. Interviews go two ways. It’s not just you. You are interviewing the organization and its people.

My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:

Also, My 2010 democratic workplace book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019
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