How to Lead in the Moment

impromptu speaking

Impromptu Leadership

Leaders today must be quick on their feet, have a ready answer, and operate at net speed.

Your credibility drops with ums and ahs.

Your leadership brand is sullied by blank stares or unclear answers.

No one is perfect, but it’s important to read an audience. It’s often important to improvise.

I know that I often credit my extemporaneous speaking to my early forensics club in high school and college, skills that I depend on every single day as the CEO of a global organization. It’s not something you’re born with, but something you can learn through careful practice and preparation.

Judith Humphrey, in her new book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment, provides a perfect opportunity for every one of us to up our game and improve our skills. I’m always on a quest to improve my skills in this area, and that’s why I welcomed her book into my self-development arsenal.

I followed up with Judith to talk about her work in this area. Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group Inc., a top tier communications firm. For over thirty years, she has been a communications coach and speaker. She’s also a columnist for Fast Company.


The Importance of Extemporaneous Speaking

Why is extemporaneous speaking so important? 

Off-the-cuff remarks have become the new normal for business leaders. Organizations have flattened, and knowledge and decision-making are decentralized. Not long ago, messages were delivered from “on high.” Only those in the C-suite seemed to be empowered. Now leaders at all levels are speaking out and communicating in a more open, authentic, and informal manner.

Such everyday communications involve leading in the moment and speaking spontaneously. This is leadership in the organization of the twenty-first century. It takes place in corridors, elevators, meetings, interviews, networking events, and chats. Many small stages have replaced the big stage, and impromptu communication has become far more important than scripted speaking.


“Good impromptu speaking is a matter of words, scripts, and presence.” -Judith Humphrey


Most people think impromptu speaking would be an innate skill; you have it or you don’t. But you point out that it’s a skill you develop. Would you share some historical examples of people who practiced their extemporaneous speaking skills?

History provides many examples of individuals who faced the challenge of impromptu speaking—and discovered how to measure up to that challenge.

Abraham Lincoln told young lawyers that “extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated.” He showed his own gifts as a spontaneous speaker in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Mark Twain talked about needing several hours to prepare an impromptu speech. Winston Churchill also believed in the value of preparing impromptu remarks. In one oft-quoted example, he paused before exiting his car as his driver opened the door for him, saying, “Please wait a moment, I’m still going over my ‘extemporaneous remarks.” Lou Gehrig prepared for his “Farewell to Baseball” speech, but did not read a text–he spoke spontaneously and without notes. And one of the greatest examples of prepared spontaneity is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he improvised the centerpiece of the speech.

Even though we think of impromptu speaking as winging it, we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t prepare. In fact, the word “Impromptu” derives from the Latin in promptu meaning “in readiness.”


“Spontaneous, nonhierarchical dialogue is the new narrative for business leaders.” -Judith Humphrey


Embrace the Impromptu Mindset

What’s the impromptu mindset?

The impromptu mindset begins with intention – the willingness to see every situation as a potential leadership opportunity, whether it is an encounter in the corridor, an exchange in the elevator, or a comment interjected in a meeting dialogue. This intentionality is paramount for any leader who wants to make the most of impromptu opportunities.

Beyond that, the impromptu mindset includes the willingness to listen—to be engaged in what others say. Listening is critical if one is to avoid the one-way monologue that defined traditional executive communications.

The impromptu mindset also involves authenticity. Never before have leaders had to be so open with their audiences. Authentic leaders are comfortable in sharing their ideas, values, beliefs, vulnerabilities, and stories.

Finally, the impromptu mindset includes respectfulness and the ability to focus: everyday audiences need to be respected because each encounter involves—and can strengthen—a relationship. And in speaking off-the-cuff it’s critical to focus, because your impromptu audiences expect you to be there, truly present, for them.


“The most successful executives and managers see every encounter as a potential leadership moment.” -Judith Humphrey


How do you read your audience in advance?

5 Important Aspects of Making a Positive First Impression

This is a guest post by Susanne Loxton. Susanne is a writer with a passion for learning and education at Aubiz. Follow her on Twitter here.

Meeting a new business contact can be nerve-wracking. Just like a first date, your first impression is of the utmost importance, as it can determine the trajectory of the arrangement. And while rehearsing what you are going to say and arguments you intend to make can be helpful, a major part of making a good first impression has to do with unspoken qualities such as body language, hygiene, and preparedness. Below you will find a few aspects that should always be at the front of your mind when you schedule a meeting.

1. Research before the meeting

Find out as much as you can about the client and company involved in the meeting. Learn about their goals, values, and interests. Use LinkedIn to get a sense of the person’s background or find common threads. Prepare some questions based on your research, and get ready to make it clear they are important to you.

“He who does not research has nothing to teach.” -Proverb

2. Keep your non-verbals in check

Your body language is capable of communicating almost as much as your actual words, so it’s important to be intentional with it. Remember to maintain good posture—no slouching! Not only will slouching communicate a lack of confidence and composure, but also it isn’t great for your back. You may have also guessed that a firm handshake is important, too. Make sure that your handshake is indeed firm, but also keep in mind that it isn’t a test of strength and should not be overly firm.

Tip: Your body language communicates as much as your words.

3. Dress appropriately

While meetings often take place outside of the office, that’s no excuse to go uber casual on the clothing front. Take some time to consider the right outfit, whether it be a full suit or something business casual. Of course, this will depend on the industry. Silicon Valley is a good example of the shift in attitudes toward dress, as jeans paired with blazers or black turtleneck sweaters grow in popularity, even among people in leadership positions. But when in doubt, dress up.

“Dressing well is a form of good manners.” -Tom Ford

4. Demonstrate that you’re listening

Does Your Body Language Signal Confidence or Weakness?

Ever experience social anxiety or been nervous about an upcoming meeting or job interview? Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy has outlined some simple practices that can help anyone in stressful situations.

Her research indicates that body language can signal power or weakness:


“Don’t fake it ‘til you make it; fake it ‘til you become it.” -Amy Cuddy


Body Language that Signals Weakness and Negativity:

  • Slumping
  • Making yourself small
  • Touching your face or neck
  • Folding your arms


Body Language that Signals Confidence and Positivity:

  • Standing up tall
  • Making eye contact
  • Smiling

So we know body language can definitely affect the way others perceive us, but can it affect the way we perceive ourselves?

“Do our nonverbals govern the way we think and feel about ourselves?”

According to Cuddy’s research, the answer is a resounding yes.

Try it.

Force yourself to smile for five minutes straight and you will begin to feel happy.

Our bodies can change our minds. There are definite physiological differences depending on your body pose. In one study, Curry had a group of people adopt low power poses and the other group high power poses.


Research: Powerful body language can cause hormonal changes in the body.


Boost Your Own Confidence

Afterwards, their saliva was tested and the people with the high power poses had testosterone increase by 20% versus a decrease in testosterone by 10% in the other group. Actual hormonal changes take place in the body.

The group that practiced the positive body pose were much more passionate, authentic and captivating as compared to the negative group. But here’s the kicker, it wasn’t that these individuals were putting on false airs, they were simply comfortable enough to be themselves.


“Our bodies change our minds.” -Amy Cuddy


Strike a Confident Pose

Reaching Your Peak Performance

“Does your performance reflect your potential?” is a question posed by Scott Addis in the introduction of his new book.  It’s a question I have often asked of myself and of others over the years. Reaching your potential, hitting peak performance, and achieving your best self are different ways to talk about the subject of personal success.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with Scott about his thoughts on maximizing performance.

Confident people risk security to achieve higher levels of growth and independence. -Scott Addis


Scott Addis is the President and CEO of The Addis Group and Beyond Insurance, and author of SUMMIT: Reach Your Peak And Elevate Your Customers’ Experience. Beyond Insurance is a coaching and consulting company whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers and carriers use when working with clients. Scott is recognized as an industry leader having been awarded the Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” Award as well as “25 Most Innovative Agents in America”.

SUMMIT is divided into four elevations.  What are the four elevations?  Why is the book organized this way?

When it came to putting the material into a book, I thought it seemed natural to organize and edit the writings into a sequence that reflected a progression from individual skill development to business relationships to the customer experience.  Summit is therefore divided into the following four elevations:


Elevation I: Preparing for the Climb (Developing Your Personal Readiness)

Elevation II:  Setting up Base Camp (Preparing to Present Yourself to Others)

Elevation III:  On to the Summit (Focusing on the Customer Experience)

Elevation IV:  The Final Ascent (Discovering Your Inner Strengths)

In Elevation I, you emphasize the importance of paying attention to four performance indicators and developing them as the reader progresses.  One of these performance indicators is natural strength.  Why is it crucial to focus on honing natural strengths rather than improving weaknesses?

Every person who has ever lived has natural strengths (also known as Unique Abilities) though most people are not conscious of them.  Because of this lack of awareness, these people have not experienced the infinite rewards that come from being able to harness and develop their natural talents and pursue their passions wholeheartedly.  The more you are able to recognize your natural strengths and shape your life around them, the more freedom, success and happiness you will experience.  Your Unique Abilities (i.e., Natural Strengths) have four characteristics:

  1. A superior ability that other people notice and value
  2. Love doing it and want to do it as much as possible
  3. Energizing for you and others around you
  4. You keep getting better, never running out of possibilities for further improvement

Most individuals are not able to identify their natural strengths, let alone concentrate on them, because they are trapped by childhood training.  We learn at a young age that the secret to success in life is working on our weaknesses.  Unfortunately, it is the focus on weaknesses that results in a sense of deficiency, failure and guilt.  As a result, our lives are filled with frustration, wasted potential and missed opportunities.  Letting go of these “lack of abilities” to focus on the things you love is a key to maximizing your performance.


Innovation is the lifeblood of the peak performer. -Scott Addis


In Elevation III, you discuss the customer experience.  What is the customer experience?  Why are the first impressions so significant in building customer relationships?

The Customer Experience Journey is the sum of all experiences that the customer has with you and your firm, the actions and results that make the customer feel important, understood, heard and respected.  Each customer interaction molds and shapes the Journey.

A first impression is the mark you make in the first moments of interacting with someone.  This impression has a strong effect on one’s intellect, feelings, or conscience.

It is interesting to note that the brain is immensely perceptive and takes into account every minor detail of another’s facial features.  The sight and sound around us are picked up by sense organs and the signals are passed to the brain.  These signals are then compared to the memories of past experiences.  The interpretations of these signals play a key role in forming the first impression.Addis_jacket.indd

In your book, you write:  “Work-life balance remains my biggest challenge in my quest to reach the peak.”  How do you define work-life balance?  Why is it difficult to achieve equilibrium between the two?

The term “work/life balance” first appeared in the 1970’s.  The expression means having equilibrium among all the priorities in your life.  It is interesting to note that this state of balance differs from person to person.  However, if there is little or no balance over an extended period of time, the vast majority of people experience stress and, eventually, burnout.

Today’s intense, competitive business climate has created corporate cultures that demand more and more from professionals.  To get ahead, 60 to 70 hour work weeks appear to be the new standard.

Goal setting is also very important on the climb.  Why is mental imagery, or visualization, a key component of successful goal setting?

Visualization allows you to see yourself at some point in the future, while goals offer a road map to reach these visions.  There is nothing more rewarding than having visions, setting goals, launching into action and persisting until you reach your destination.  The key to goal setting is your ability to turn this vision into reality.

Mental imagery is essential to goal setting.  Your ability to see yourself at the point of goal actualization is a key component to successful goal setting.  Goal setting breaks down unless you have great clarity about your vision.

“The last few steps of the climb will be the toughest, yet the most rewarding. They will require mental toughness, commitment, drive, self-discipline, positive attitude, and positive self-image.  It is when you make your final ascent that you will discover your inner strengths.” –F Scott Addis

Why is a positive first impression so important?  What are some tips you can offer our listeners or readers on creating a positive first impression?

How Body Language Can Define a Leader

Photo courtesy of istockphoto/AjFilGud

This is a guest post by Erin Schwartz. Erin is responsible for marketing and social media programs at, a destination site for office supplies like business cards, labels, and other supplies.

In a tough market, job applicants must take every available opportunity to stand out to employers. In addition, in the business world, first impressions can be crucial in forming relationships.

Research suggests that as much as 93% of our opinion about other people is established within the first five minutes of meeting them

Unfortunately, a person’s body language can make him stand out in an unintended negative way. The statistics vary, but some research suggests that as much as 93 percent of our opinion about other people is established within the first five minutes of meeting them. And body language can play a huge part in creating those initial perceptions. Are you a confident and capable leader? Or are you conveying the image of a lazy person who will always require prompting (and could easily be walked upon if put in a management position)?

Think about how others may interpret these aspects of your body language:

Making an Entrance

Interviewing experts caution that the assessment of job candidates often begins before they enter the interview room. Convey confidence by entering situations with your back straight and your shoulders back. Offer a firm handshake with a smile that conveys self-confidence and trust.

Be Organized

In business dealings, body language that reveals nervous energy can help give the other side the upper hand. Therefore, make sure any materials you have with you are carefully organized so you don’t fumble around during a meeting.


Sitting with an upright, straight posture will convey more internal strength than leaning back in your chair, unless the situation is a relaxed or informal meeting with coworkers you’re comfortable with. In contrast, leaning forward too much can make one seem overly eager and can make others feel uncomfortable in a one-on-one situation.

Photo by Dreaming in the deep south on flickr. Photo by Dreaming in the deep south on flickr.