Three secrets to being a more spontaneous speaker.
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Some of my clients tell me that they are not good at thinking on their feet, that they have a fear of unanticipated audience questions and forgetting their script. They say this despite just having had a very spontaneous and fluid conversation with me about their area of expertise. What's going on here?
Giving a talk is a big deal to most of us. We want to say all the right things. This coaxes us into a writing mode of thinking because, with writing, we can revise and edit and get everything perfect. So we prepare by creating something similar to a script. Having done that, we think that knowing the script and reciting it back well is the secret to success. But this traps us. If listeners tune out or throw us curve-ball questions, what do we do?
1. Write not to script but to secure ideas.
The process of writing and revising not only allows us to extract our thoughts to be seen and revised, it also sets the ideas we're shaping into our memory. Consider writing out your thoughts for a given talk, not as a script but more as a formal journal entry. Strive for accuracy. Be slow and careful as you develop your thoughts.
2. Talk to yourself to make the ideas accessible.
Set the writing aside and talk to yourself out loud or in your head. Talk through each idea five or more times letting the language evolve. You can glance at your writing, but allow yourself the freedom to choose words spontaneously. Some words will stick because they are accurate, but most should not. This fluidity is important because, during your talk, it will allow you to choose your words based on how your listeners react to you.
3. Let go of linearity.
A script is linear because it not only tells you what to say but also the order in which to say it. As you talk through your ideas, know that when the time comes, you will want to be able to access the ideas in any order the situation demands. You can have a default order in mind, but expect to leap around and even leave some ideas out.
The underlying secret is this: don't dump writing but dump the script. Use writing to help you know your stuff. Talk to yourself to make the stuff you know easy to bring out while you talk. And enjoy the freedom of being a more spontaneous speaker.