Off the cuff…impromptu…spontaneous. Speaking with confidence and authority on the spur of the moment can be daunting—but taking the challenge is worth it for women leaders, one educator and author says.
“The more you can perfect this skill, the better able you will be to reach your audience,” says Judith Humphrey, founder of the Humphrey Group, Inc., a company that teaches leaders how to influence and inspire, and the author of Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (Wiley, 2017).
Impromptu leadership “will enable you as women to have your voices heard in a wide variety of situations,” Humphrey said during the new AMA webcast Impromptu Leadership: How Women Can Seize Spontaneous Moments to Lead, which she facilitated in July for the Women’s Leadership Center.
Preparing to speak spontaneously
But impromptu speaking is not something you do without thinking—it’s prepared spontaneity that’s been backed up by practice, Humphrey says. She offers three ways you can prepare:
Develop an impromptu mindset with a leadership intention. If we went through our days with a “leadership intention,” Humphrey says, then every conversation would represent an opportunity to lead and inspire. Four ways to show a leadership intention are:
- Be a good listener. Keep your body focused on the person you’re talking to and listen for their feelings.
- Be authentic. Open yourself up. Share your ideas, beliefs, feelings, vulnerabilities, and stories.
- Be focused and clear. Impromptu conversations are often short, and you need a focused mind to get to the point.
- Be respectful—to yourself and others. Silence the inner voice that diminishes you and tells you you’re not qualified.
Learn to create a script on the spot. Know your subject matter. We can speak with authority and confidence, and we won’t be intimidated if someone challenges us, if we know our content, Humphrey says. She suggests using “the leader script,” a template developed by the Humphrey group that has four elements: the grabber, the message, the structure, and the call to action.
- The grabber is a bridge to your audience—a friendly greeting, a reference to a previous discussion, or a segue from someone’s point.
- The message is the core idea. You want one core idea every time you speak, Judith says.
- The structure, or the proof points, are the main points—ideally between two and four—that support your message.
- The call to action is what you want your audience to do. Examples: “So I suggest we proceed with the sales training,” or “I’d like you to take the lead on that relationship.”
Become adept at delivering with presence. “The first way to project presence is to be present, not distracted by other things happening in the corridor or the elevator or in the meeting room. It means that when you speak, you are truly centered,” Humphrey says. And be audience centric: “While you’re speaking to people, study them. Afterward, ask yourself, ‘Did I reach them?’”
For projecting presence, she suggests what she calls the four Cs:
- Be clear. Prune your prose. Get rid of jargon and extra words.
- Be conversational. Strive for simplicity in the words you use.
- Be confident. Use strong words—expressions like “I believe,” “I know,” or “I’m confident that…” Avoid “I think,” “I suppose,” or “I’m not sure, but…” And delete the word “just” from your vocabulary, Humphrey advises. Phrases like “I was just thinking” or “I’m just wondering” sound weak, almost passive, she says.
- Be collaborative. Avoid using “I” too much. It makes you sound self-preening rather than confident, Humphrey says. However, don’t take yourself out of the equation. You could say, “All of us____,” “Both of us ____,” or “I’m so proud of my team. We were able to accomplish ____.”
“If you do all these things, you’ll be a great impromptu speaker and leader,” she promises. “And the funny thing is, everyone will say, ‘Wow, she’s such a natural.’”
Join the Women’s Leadership Center for an in-person workshop, "Show Up with Power and Authenticity to Create the Success You Want," on September 20, 2018 at AMA’s New York City center. This is one example of the training and networking events WLC offers throughout the year. The workshop is free, but registration is required. RSVP and find out about other WLC opportunities.