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Top Snippets - 115: The Impromptu Talk
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The Impromptu Talk   If you are called upon at an internal meeting with the big bosses, or during an external public event, to suddenly speak on a topic do you say, “whoopee, here is my time to shine” or do you find you are suffering from instant whiteout of the brain?  Not being prepared at any time is bad.  What about when all those beady eyes are focused on you and you are panicking? You don’t know what to say and here comes humiliation. You make a mess of it and your personal and professional brands just got sunk mid-ships.   Knowing your subject is one thing, being able to get up on your feet and speak about it with no warning is a completely different thing.  “Oh, this would never happen to me”, you say.  Big bosses can be very nasty people sometimes and they can rudely seek your opinion on the project or the idea.  “Um, um, um, ah, ah, I, er, er,  um,…” is not a brilliant response.    It could be at a public event, it might be a panel discussion and you are safely ensconced in your seat down the back, away from harm’s way.  The moderator decides to call upon you for a comment, given you are an expert in your field.  Some helpful functionary thrusts the hand microphone into your sweaty palm, you reluctantly stand up and offer “Um, um, um, ah, ah, I, er, er,  um,….” Not a brilliant response.   Obviously the degree of difficulty of this type of talk is a lot harder than when the day has been set in advance, the notices have gone out, you are fully prepared and ready to go for your formal presentation.  What can we do when impromptu speaker Armageddon beckons?   If you are an expert in an area under discussion, you can always mentally assume that you will called upon to speak.   You are never caught cold in this case.  You have ruminated a little on what you could say, were you forced to do so.  That unwarranted jab with the hand microphone looks a lot less threatening when you have composed yourself beforehand.   One good practice is to always have a question ready for the speaker.  Even if you don’t actually ask it, think of a very good question you could ask.  If you are called upon to make a comment, you can then talk about a question you had and then answer it yourself.  “Thank you for asking me to say a few words.  A question I have been asking myself is….  Now, as far as I understand it, it seems that….”.  This shows that you are tuned into the topic and that you have your own views on the subject.  The answer doesn’t need to become your own full blown speech displacing the actual speaker, but it will allow you to make some well thought through comments. The audience will be impressed that you actually have expertise in this area and your personal brand gets elevated.   Another formula is using WHO, WHY, WHAT.  The WHO refers to the people in the audience.  If it is a business audience, we can say something like, “I was chatting with a few people before the talk and a common concern which surfaced was about XYZ. This is an important consideration and my own views on the subject are that….”  Or we could say, “I guess one of the reasons we are all here today is to find out more about some of the key issues.  One that interests me is about….”.   The WHY are our comments on the importance of the topic.  We can put the topic in context with the current situation in the industry or the economy more broadly.  “FinTech is occupying the minds of a lot of people in the banking industry.  This is the age of disruption, as we have seen in many big industries already and this FinTech area has all the potential to be a big disruptor to the way we do business.  My own feeling is…”.    The WHAT could be picking up something the speaker has said already and making a comment on that. “Our speaker mentioned that FinTech is only relevant in certain economies at the moment and I agree with that. What we have seen though with technologies like the mobile phone is certain nations have skipped the infrastructure investment in land lines stage and gone straight to mobile networks. FinTech could be a disrupter that puts access to credit into the hands of third world citizens, much faster than we currently think is possible”.   The secret is to be ready to go if called upon.  It happens. I was comfortably seated next to my wife at a pleasant Ikebana International event in Osaka. At that time I was representing my country as the Consul General for Australia.  Suddenly without a “bye your leave”, the speaker called me up to the stage to say a few words.    Naturally those few words would have to be in Japanese. The distance from my chair to the podium was about ten steps.  I wasn’t prepared to say anything. It wasn’t an occasion I could ask the speaker a question, given the context and I had the distinct feeling my heart rate was racing at around 190 beats per minute.