“Improvising is wonderful. But the thing is that you cannot improvise unless you know exactly what you’re doing.”
This quote from actor Christopher Walken may seem paradoxical, but he’s right. If you want to excel at speaking spontaneously, you can’t just “wing it.” You need to have a plan. Here are three strategies for superb spontaneous speaking.
1. Use oral bullet points
Speaking spontaneously doesn’t mean you should say whatever pops into your mind in a stream of consciousness flow. Like branches of a tree, your thoughts get smaller and smaller — what were you talking about anyway? You need structure to maintain control.
One of the ways you can maintain control is by using oral bullet points to help you organize coherent responses to questions. For example, if you’re asked, “What is marketing doing to help the company grow?” your first oral bullet point would be “One of the ways marketing is helping the company grow…” Your second oral bullet point would be “Another one of the ways marketing is helping the company grow…” And so on.
If you’re making a short impromptu presentation, just ask yourself the question. Oral bullet points give you an anchor point, yet you are free to go with the flow.
2. Practice your stories
Storytelling is an important part of spontaneous speaking, so you have to practice telling your stories ahead of time. The best way to practice stories is by telling them to your family and friends, not in front of a mirror. Practice telling your stories in different ways: Change the build-up, explore shortening your sentences, and add dialogue and gestures. Note any differences in reactions. You don’t need the storyteller gift; you just need to practice.
3. Think “flow,” not “flawless”
Finally, as Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” You’re not always going to speak eloquently when you speak spontaneously, so don’t worry about choosing the best word. Instead, choose the first word that comes to mind.
Give your “speaking editor” a rest and focus on letting your thoughts flow. Speaking spontaneously is like walking — you can’t walk standing still. You have to keep going. You have to stay focused. It’s not about finding the perfect words; it’s about engaging and being in the moment.
Every opportunity for spontaneous speaking is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the power of your thinking. By using these strategies, you can capitalize on these opportunities and enhance your leadership presence.