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?

3 Keys to Negotiating Success

3 Keys to Negotiating Success


Do people take advantage of you?

Do you let your emotions get in the way of your negotiations?

Do you want to be a better negotiator?


Corey Kupfer has negotiated successful deals for over 30 years as an entrepreneur and lawyer, and is committed to inspiring authenticity in business. Kupfer runs his own firm, Kupfer & Associates, PLLC, and founded a speaking, training and consulting company called Authentic Enterprises, LLC. He’s the author of Authentic Negotiating: Clarity, Detachment & Equilibrium – The Three Keys to True Negotiating Success & How to Achieve Them.

I recently spoke with him about the three keys to authentic negotiations.


“You do not get what you want. You get what you negotiate.” -Harvey Mackey


Authentic Negotiations

Your book title starts with the word authentic. That’s not usually a descriptor of negotiating styles. I’d love to know more about your approach and this uniqueness.

My teachings, based on over 30 years of day-in and day-out professional business negotiating, are mainly focused on the personal and deep internal work you need to do to become a great negotiator: Clarity, Detachment and Equilibrium (or CDE).  A lot of negotiating training is on the level of techniques, tactics and counter-tactics.  Some of those are very manipulative, lack integrity, and are ultimately ineffective – so they should never be used.  Some are okay, but they are not at the core of true negotiating success.  At best, they are good to know as additional tools beyond the deeper and more important work of authentic negotiating.  Without Clarity, Detachment and Equilibrium, tactics and counter-tactics will be of marginal impact at best.

Authentic negotiators get total clarity on what will work and won’t work for them on every significant term and what their true bottom line is – from a place of clarity, not ego. They then stay detached from the outcome. They have no hesitation to walk away from a negotiation – not from a place of anger or ego but, instead, from a place of clarity with no upset, judgement or hard feelings.  Finally, they maintain their equilibrium throughout the negotiating process and don’t let their emotions throw them off so that they are able to stay present to and maintain their clarity and detachment.  Although, of course, leverage matters, in over 30 years of professional negotiating, I found that the most impactful common controllable elements are those three things – not the negotiating tactics and counter-tactics that many of us have been taught.

I’ve actually created a quiz where people can learn if they are an authentic negotiator, which can be found at


“Authentic negotiators determine their true bottom line from a place of clarity, not ego.” –Corey Kupfer


The Top 6 Reasons for Negotiation Fails

What are some of the most common errors people make negotiating?

The top six reasons negotiations fail are:

  1. Lack of preparation – external preparation and, the often overlooked, internal preparation which requires doing the deep inner work to get clear on your objectives and determine your true bottom line on every material deal point.
  2. Ego – including avoiding the pitfalls of pride, wanting to be liked, wanting to win and talking too much.
  3. Fear – including fear of losing, failure, success, the unknown and looking bad or letting someone down.
  4. Rigidity – including pre-conceived notions and the danger of inflexibility.
  5. Getting emotional/losing objectivity – which can kill a deal because you fall in love with a bad deal or it can push you in the wrong direction.
  6. Lack of integrity – with others and, less talked about but as important, with yourself.

Here are some additional specific reasons that fall under the various larger categories above:

  • Talking too much which is most often triggered by either ego or fear.
  • Not listening.
  • Thinking of negotiation as a game.
  • Being focused on winning instead of achieving objectives.
  • Letting emotions get in the way of your clarity, detachment or equilibrium.
  • Not getting connected to a powerful context.
  • Not knowing your purpose for the negotiation.
  • Not determining the measurable results you want to achieve.
  • Not holding high expectations.
  • Having unreasonable expectations.
  • Not understanding the natural negotiating rhythm and moving either too fast or slow.
  • Not being aware and prepared for cultural differences.


“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” – Sir David Frost


Do skilled negotiators often exploit these errors? If they know the issue is “getting emotional/losing objectivity” do they deliberately work to have one side off balance in this way?

Absolutely!  Manipulative negotiators are going to look to take advantage of every weakness they see in you and use it to their advantage.  They will leverage that emotional imbalance the most they can even though it would be shortsighted to do so, especially in one of the many negotiations that results in an ongoing relationship.  Authentic negotiators will use these errors to their benefit as well, though.  There is a way to do that which is authentic and not manipulative.  It is the difference between paying attention to the information and leveraging opportunities that emotion reveals to help attain your objectives vs. actively manipulating people’s emotions.  For example, if somebody is the type of person who emotionally needs to feel like they have won a negotiation, I will design my negotiating strategy with that in mind.  As long as I achieve my objectives, I am happy to have them feel like they have won.  The difference in the authentic approach is that my focus is achieving my objectives, not using their need to win to take advantage of them and manipulate that need to get as much as I can at the expense of the ongoing relationship or getting a reputation as a negotiator who takes advantage of others.


“Manipulative negotiators leverage emotional imbalance.” –Corey Kupfer


Use Context – Purpose – Results

3 Lessons from the Star Spangled Banner

The History Behind the Star Spangled Banner


The year was 1814. The United States and the United Kingdom were at war.

In mid-September, the British began to attack the city of Baltimore. Guarding the city, Fort McHenry came under heavy fire from warships in the harbor. Only a week prior, Francis Scott Key had learned of the impending attack while on a British ship. Because of his knowledge, the British blocked him from leaving his ship.

That’s why Francis was on his ship that night, watching the sky light up. Shells weighing up to 200 pounds fell on the fort at an alarming rate nearly every minute. The attack was so extensive and continual that the outcome of a British victory seemed certain.

But early on the morning of September 14th, Key saw the American flag signaling the American win. That flag was 42 feet across and flew proudly over the Fort.

You know what happened.

He penned the words that would become the national anthem of the United States of America, The Star Spangled Banner, though the initial title was the Defence of Fort McHenry. The song had four verses, but we only sing one.


The Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


3 Lessons for Leaders from the Star Spangled Banner

When I reflect on these events, I think of three lessons:

Preparation is the key to winning. Major General Samuel Smith showed a fierce determination to defend Baltimore. His extensive preparations were vitally important to assure the American victory.


“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Achieving Peak Performance by Conquering the 7 Summits of Sales

Climbing to the Top

  • What’s the best formula for setting goals?
  • How do I prepare and truly commit to achieving them?
  • What about perseverance?
  • How do I overcome resistance?

Someone wisely once told me that to achieve something great, “Find the person who has already climbed the mountain.”  In this case, I found someone who literally has climbed mountains.  Susan Ershler has successfully climbed the elite Seven Summits and is a sought-after international speaker who has served in leadership positions for Fortune 500 companies for more than twenty years.  She is also the author of  CONQUERING THE SEVEN SUMMITS OF SALES: From Everest To Every Business, Achieving Peak Performance


How to Set Goals

You have a new formula for setting goals.  It’s not the SMART model, it’s the CLIMB model.  Would you share that with us?

It all begins with a well-defined vision and a set of clearly defined goals. The CLIMB system we developed on our journey to becoming top performers will provide you with a structured approach to goal setting that is both disciplined and focused.

C – Concise:  Your goals must be specific, quantifiable, actionable, and support your vision.

L – Levelheaded:  Your vision and goals must be realistic and attainable based on your current skills and level of professional development.

I – Integrated:  Your goals must be related, relevant, and integrated with your vision.

M – Measurable:  You must hold yourself accountable by using objective metrics to track your progress against goals. You must “measure the mountain.”

B – Big:  Being realistic doesn’t mean thinking small. Be bold and ambitious in projecting your future. Think Big!


“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Ben Franklin

Everest Base Camp Sue

The Importance of Preparation

Let’s talk about preparation.  Obviously preparing for a climb elevates it to a life or death activity.  How have you used what you learned in climbing about preparation in other areas like sales or goals?
No BIG mountain is scaled in a single climb. No quota or BIG business objective is achieved in a single day. You must step away from the business and create a detailed roadmap that delineates every step of your journey and includes metrics to measure success along the way.

If we don’t have a plan in writing, we have a tendency to react to disruptive things, for example like constant email. We need to make sure we focus on the important activities that will lead us to success, reviewing our plan on a daily basis.


The Power of Commitment

Commitment.  Many talk a good game.  You may believe them, but then they quit before they even get going.  How do you help people truly commit?

Achieving peak performance, both personally and professionally, can dramatically change our lives. So once we have a vision we must commit to achieving it.  Peak performers say, “I will” not “I will try.”  For example, if you want to climb a mountain or run a marathon, sign up, pay the fee and then work backwards.  In climbing, I had to visualize myself on the summit of Everest – that was my vision in advance for years.  In business, I viewed myself as a vice president in the Fortune 500 world for years before I achieved that title.  Big visions can take years to achieve, but say, “I will do it” and never give up.


“Peak performers say I will, not I will try.”

To Speak Fearlessly, Take Yourself Out of the Equation

Gary Genard, PhD, is an actor, communications professor, and speech coach, as well as author of Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life..  Gary helps people from all walks of life cope with speech anxiety and stage fright.

We all want to speak fearlessly and with impact.  Influential public speaking is as important today as it’s ever been, despite the digital age.  Personal appearances matter.  Give a great speech and you might just change the world.

So you should try to be excellent, right?

Actually, you should try to be yourself.  There’s a reason you’re the one giving the presentation, usually because of your knowledge and experience.

So how do you get off the merry-go-round of self-regard and forget yourself while embodying your vital message? Here are three ways to do so.


Perform an Audience Analysis

Leaders’ egos sometimes set them up for failure as speakers.  That’s especially true if they think, “I know this stuff, so I’ll just get up there and talk about it.”

That’s a speech guaranteed to be shapeless and not very engaging.  Speeches are strategic activities, after all, and need to be thought out and constructed with care.  Your best guide for doing that successfully is an audience analysis.

Ask yourself these questions: What do I need to tell my listeners that they don’t already know? How do they prefer to receive information?  Is there an emotional climate here that I should know about?  What will their objections be to my argument?  And what action do I want them to take?  Put yourself in the world of your listeners, and it will be far easier to reach and move them.


Speaking Tip: Put yourself in the world of your listeners.


Prepare Less, Practice More

Let’s face it: Most of us are content junkies when it comes to speeches and presentations.  We’re convinced that if we load enough information into the laps of our listeners, they’ll respond the way we want them to.

This type of thinking ignores reality!  If our content could live on its own, we wouldn’t even need to be present—we could just send the information along and say, “Read this. You’ll have all the data you need.”  The truth is, however, audiences need us, as speakers, to put it all into context and, most important, to tell them why it matters to them.

So instead of gathering more and more content like a dung beetle, practice how you’re going to engage your listeners and establish rapport.  You’ll be the speaker who knows how to perform a speech.  That’s the one they’ll listen to.


Speaking Tip: Practice how you’re going to establish rapport.


Try Your Best to Disappear