Archive for the 'Content' Category

Aug 03 2017

How to speak when you’re put on the spot

Published by under Content,Delivery,Public Speaking

We’ve discussed the necessity to practice to be a better communicator, but many of you have told me that you love speaking extemporaneously; to your mind that means you would be better off not practicing.  Practicing may take the joy out of something that you really like to do, to shape ideas as they come to you, to put new ideas together and form them on the fly. In fact, that is a great skill.  However, a skill is usually developed with some guidelines.  This is where improvisational comedy, or “improv” comes in. People who are good at it have learned through a lot of practice to adhere to some rules even though they are still speaking extemporaneously.  Although there are many variations of these rules, (after all, this IS improv!) here are some  from the Improv queen, Tina Fey:

  • Say “Yes.” As a speaker, this means to respect what others have said and to start your talk or conversation with an open mind.
  • Yes isn’t enough. Say “Yes, and…” This can apply to presenters and public speakers as the responsibility to add to what others have said rather than start with remarks on a completely new topic or ones that don’t reflect what has gone on in the room before you spoke up.
  • Make statements. Be committed to your ideas. Have a point of view. Speak clearly and with confidence.
  • There are no mistakes. Be open to opportunities that present themselves. If something appears to go wrong, what can you do with that to make lemonade?  When the power went out at a Chris Botti concert I attended, he seized the moment to walk into the audience and give an “unplugged” concert that had the audience transfixed and gave the artists a standing ovation.

The skill of improv is a great tool for leaders who have to think on their feet all day. It can help you be more aware as well as more innovative. It can help you be better at extemporaneous speaking. Think about it. How would the conversation change or what would happen if you just say “yes?”

Another rule of improv that some use is “don’t practice.” At first glance this may seem to reinforce that you will improvise best when you don’t prepare, but, in fact, improvisors do exercises around all of these rules and practice over and over to be able to be clear and think on their feet so that they can do their work well.  They do exercises to be aware of what they are and are not doing. Practicing makes them stronger and more able to think quickly on their feet.  Here’s how practicing can create more skills for extemporaneous speaking:

  • By practicing to eliminate filler words from your talk, you have to pay more attention to how you say what you say.  Doing that makes you more aware in general.
  • By practicing to eliminate indirect language you have to pay closer attention to whether or not what you are saying is accurate and whether or not you are committed to your own ideas.  Eventually your use of language improves in its meaning and you are much more able to express yourself clearly.
  • By practicing to bring in elements that engage others, you have to pay more attention to human connection and what makes others tick.  You have to listen more because you now require that you connect rather than be detached.
  • And by practicing aloud what you are going to say in a presentation or conversation, you allow your brain to use the ear/brain feedback loop and do its job of helping you to build more logic or more persuasion or more motivation…whatever you set as your intention.

Thus, the bottom line here is that in order to be at your best when you are asked to speak without much time to prepare, you have to prepare to speak. In an article on, Andy Boynton, Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, says that improv can teach us “how to perform better, how to collaborate, how to build ideas,” all of which are essential skills for being a speaker who can speak well when put on the spot.

A book on improv that you may find interesting:

Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madsen

© Micha Rosenwirth | Dreamstime

© Ronnie Wu | Dreamstime

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Jun 26 2015

The Large Impact of Small Talk

Published by under Content,Public Speaking

If small talk at the beginning of a presentation or conversation seems like a dreamstime_m_40607260waste of time to you, you may be missing one of the most important parts of communication. You see, small talk serves a purpose beyond the sometimes-silly words we use; it sends the message that you are interested in exploring a relationship with your conversation partner or audience. It’s social rather than informational, and it’s called “phatic communication.” 

Lest you think this is a new idea, the term Phatic Communication was coined in an important essay by Bronislaw Malinowski on meaning in conversation, way back in 1923. But it may be even more important today, when building business is all about relationships. If you want to have a real conversation with someone and you DON’T include small talk, you may actually be telling the listener that something is wrong and the normal social rules have been suspended. And there goes the relationship!

Phatic communication is not just words. It’s intention, gestures and even tone of voice. The next time you plan a presentation or a conversation, be sure to ask yourself if phatic communication should be part of it. If you are not comfortable with small talk, you can find helpful hints for how to use it, please see my post, How to be an expert at conversation.

And for those rebels among you, here is a discourse on whether or not all our communication is becoming too phatic, which is why there are so many cats and dogs on Facebook.


Join me on my Facebook page (no cats), or connect on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter . I welcome any comments or questions.

© Photodeti | Dreamstime.comDogue De Bordeaux And Two Leopard Cats Photo

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