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?

7 Reasons Why You Should Improve Your Public Speaking

Improve Your Public Speaking

 

Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.

As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.

The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.

I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.

 

“Fear the fear of public speaking and do it anyway.” –Arvee Robinson

 

Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.

 

1. Overcome your fear.

There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.

 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill

 

2. Boost your self-confidence.

When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.

 

“Competence without confidence just doesn’t cut it.” –Derek Lewis

 

3. Attract opportunities.

Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.

 

“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert

 

4. Influence others.

Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.

 

“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting to Inspire, Coach, and Get Things Done

 

Do you communicate with power?

 

Leadership is intertwined with communication. It’s a critical skill and it’s becoming more and more important in a world of social media and constant news cycles.

If you want to be an excellent leader, you simply must become an excellent communicator.

Dianna Booher is one of my favorites in the area of communication. She’s the CEO of Booher Research and she’s authored a staggering 47 books, including her latest Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done. She works with organizations to help them communicate clearly and with leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence.

I recently spoke to Dianna about her latest work.

 

Leadership Tip: Ineffective leaders communicate in one direction, by telling.

 

The Signs of an Ineffective Leader

What are some of the signs of an ineffective leader’s communications?

Ineffective leaders tend to place great trust in their own expertise and control. Their thinking seems to follow the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So most of their communication is one-directional—telling.  By contrast, more effective leaders like to get input from several trusted sources. They listen with an open mind and weigh facts and ideas before rushing to accept or reject these ideas as valid. The majority of their communication is collaborative.

Ineffective leaders often communicate with vague abstractions so as to avoid offense and blame on sensitive issues. More effective leaders, however, understand when an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.

 

“Effective leaders understand an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.” -Dianna Booher

 

While ineffective leaders may communicate directly and frequently (good habits), they often focus on controlling processes and people. Consequently, these leaders often come across as manipulative and uncaring. In addition to direct and frequent communication, more effective leaders are tactful, compassionate, and passionate when it comes to people.

Although ineffective leaders would probably never see their communication lacking in this way, they focus on detail—the “how” of a job, doing things right. More effective leaders communicate the bigger picture—the “why” of a job. And communicating that “why” to team members tends to inspire them to do their best work on the right things.

 

“What we’ve got here is  a failure to communicate.” -Cool Hand Luke

 

What to Do about that Micromanaging Boss

Discover Your Unique Communication Style

Know Your Presentation Persona

 

What if each of us has a unique presentation style?

What if you could discover what it is and use it to your advantage when giving a speech?

 

FACT: 30 million speakers take the stage every day

 

Have you ever messed up a presentation or speech?

It could very well be because you didn’t know your natural style. By not knowing your unique strengths, you missed the opportunity to tap into what works for you.

If you want to be a better speaker or just improve your comfort level in front of groups, this post is for you.

Scott Schwertly is the founder and CEO of Ethos3, a presentation design and training company with clients ranging from Guy Kawasaki to Fortune 500 Companies. In fact, I personally utilized Ethos3 for two major keynote presentations. I can speak from personal experience that Scott and his team are exceptionally talented at creating memorable presentations.

I recently spoke with Scott about his new book, What’s Your Presentation Persona?

 

Build Your Self-Awareness

Why is self-awareness so important for presenters?

Self-awareness is absolutely critical for presenters because it means they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses when giving a presentation. It also showcases that they are clearly aware of which audiences will adore them or challenge them. Without this knowledge, a presenter can only guess and assume, which is a dangerous situation.

 

“Self-awareness is probably the most important thing toward being a champion.” –Billie Jean King

 

There are sixteen different types of personas. Would you share just a few of them? (would love to include the graphic of the 16 if it is available).

That’s correct. There is a total of 16 presentation personas. All are different and each consists of its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. A few of my personal favorites are the Liberator, Activator, and Scholar. The Liberator is someone who is incredibly well rounded where they score high in all 4 quadrants of the Badge assessment. The Activator is your classic sales personality where this type of presenter excels in front of a room, and people love them. The Scholar is the exact opposite of the Activator where they are a verified expert and have a durable message but they may not be great in front of a room.

 

Where can I take the assessment?

Anyone can discover their presentation persona right now. They can do so by visiting Ethos3’s Badge page. The assessment takes about 10-12 minutes to complete. It’s super-fast. Also, readers should pick up a copy of What’s Your Presentation Persona? to understand their results/profile.

 

Stop One Thing

What’s a presentation stop-doing list?

Most people today are constantly trying to add items to their plate. They want to read more books, take more courses, exercise more frequently…the list goes on and on. Most presenters are no different. They are trying to do too much, and it simply is not sustainable. Instead, I would suggest instead of adding 7-8 proactive items, why not just stop one. Let’s say a presenter wants to read one presentation book a week, subscribe to 30 presentation blogs, practice 10 times before every presentation, and attend a presentation training course every quarter. That’s admirable, but it may not be doable. Why not just stop being lazy with your presentations or stop short-cutting your content development process? Stopping one thing is much easier than adding ten items.

 

Speaking Tip: stop one thing to improve your presentations.

 

What are some common presentations mistakes you’ve seen over and over?

How to Become Impossible to Ignore

Be Impossible to Ignore

“Memory matters because it influences action.” -Carmen Simon

 

How do you stay on people’s minds?

How do you craft your message in a way that stands out above the noise?

Since audiences forget most of what you communicate, how do you stay on their minds long enough to influence decisions?

 

I’ve read my share of books on speaking, on marketing, on crafting messages that will resonate. Dr. Carmen Simon’s new book, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, is one that I appreciate for its uniqueness. It’s not only about how to craft memorable messages but also about the science behind doing it.

Carmen Simon, PhD is a cognitive scientist who helps brands craft these memorable messages. Messages crafted based on how the brain works stay with us and influence our thinking long after we experience them. Her firm, Rexi Media, is a presentation design and training company based on her research.

 

“Familiarity wins over novelty when our conscious mental processing is distracted.” -Carmen Simon

 

Become Memorable With Distinction

Audiences forget up to 90%. What do most presenters get wrong?

First, let’s debunk a myth around the “90%.” It is not true that people only remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see…and up to 90% of what they say and do. There is no scientific study that provides evidence for such conveniently increasing stats (and what is the difference between “reading” and “seeing” anyway?).

When analyzing messages we share with a business audience, it is practical to consider a theory and formula that has been around for more than eight decades, called the forgetting curve. Simply put, according to the forgetting curve, we forget fast at first and slower later. After about 48 hours, people will forget most of our messages, particularly when they attend to them without the intent to remember, which is typical in business contexts. In academia, students attend to messages with the intent to retain (ideally). But in business, audiences are often in a state of partial attention, multitasking, and likely sleep-deprived. We are lucky if they remember anything at all. The practical advice for any business communicator is to ask, “What is my 10% message?” and consider the “10%” a metaphorical number, not a strict one because in business, it is difficult to attach a precise stat on how much people remember days or weeks later. We just know they retain very little and at random.

Regarding the question about what goes wrong for business presentations where memory is concerned: Most people worry about not remembering the past. In business, what we should be worried about is whether our audiences remember us in the future, because that’s where decisions happen. Let’s say you’re sharing content at a certain point in time, Point A. Your audiences are likely to make decisions about you (hire you, promote you, read your content, like it, etc.) at a future point, Point B. This point can be minutes, weeks, or months later. The key ingredient to business success is people remembering us in the future, at Point B, and making a decision in our favor.

 

“Everything you have ever achieved in business is a reflection of how much your audiences remember you.” -Carmen Simon

 

Retrospective memory (remembering the past) is still useful. But it is prospective memory (remembering to act on a future intention) that keeps us in business. This means that at Point B, we must enable people not only to remember but also to create for them a memory that is strong enough to compel action.

A common mistake that business communicators make is not building in audiences’ minds strong associations between the content shared at Point A and actions they must take later, at Point B. Simply having a nice PowerPoint presentation or an ad with a “call to action” at Point A is not sufficient. Take for instance the ad that Colgate released at the Super Bowl this year. The ad reminded us that when we brush our teeth and leave the water running, we waste about 4 gallons of water, and that’s how much some people around the world have access to in one week. The main message was: “every drop counts” – indeed a humanitarian message. The strength of the ad is that the conditions at Point A and Point B are the same, in the sense that we saw the water running when we watched the commercial, and that’s what we see a few hours later, and each day after that in real life, when we brush our teeth. What the ad missed was instilling a stronger association between the message and what we’re supposed to do at Point B. At least a few shots in the video could have zoomed in a bit more on the action of turning the water off. And the main message should have been, “Every drop counts, turn the water off.” Too often, we leave it to the audience to derive the message and, unfortunately, people are too busy and too tired to extract messages and change their behavior. We often decide what to do next out of habit. And changing habits requires cognitive energy, which we may not have at the time when we need it. Think about it: When are you most likely to brush your teeth? Early in the morning and late at night. What’s the likelihood that you’re still tired in both those circumstances? Quite high. The ad relied too much on the emotion of the stat (“some people in the world do not have enough water”) and too little on solidifying the link between the message and the action needed at Point B.

 

“Memory paves the road from intention to execution.” -Carmen Simon

 

Memory works on the concept of associations. Our brains take in the world through our senses and process that information in specialized regions (e.g., visual, auditory or motor cortices). These are considered primary sensory areas. However, our brains are capable of more complex mental functions than simply detecting basic sensory details, like color or pitch. We don’t just see a color or a contour or light. We see faces and cars and toasters and shoes. Each primary sensory system has its own association areas; the human brain also has higher order association areas, which are not linked to a particular sense but combine input from them to generate complex actions, like thinking and planning and producing language and deciding what to do next. Our association areas take up most of the cerebral cortex. Scientific studies are now revealing for instance that what differentiates creative people from non-creative people is greater activity in these association areas of the brain.

The key message is that the stronger the associations we enable between various inputs in the brain, the more likely the action. Sometimes people think that a strong, emotional message at Point A is sufficient and it’s not. By the time Point B comes around, the initial emotion can wear off. Think of the many times you may remember the humor from an ad, but have no idea what the ad was for. This is because the advertisers failed to establish a strong association between the content at Point A and the action at Point B.

 

“Having information about someone else ahead of time is a source of power.” -Carmen Simon

 

Control What Your Audience Remembers

What steps should a presenter take to become intentional about what the audience remembers?

The first step is to be clear about what you want others to remember. This can be one of the easiest or hardest steps, depending on your messaging. Sometimes it can take weeks, months or even years to get to the essence of a message you want others to remember. And sometimes we forget our own messages. Take Abercrombie & Finch, for example. For a while, the message they wanted us to remember was about a highly sexualized, bare physique. Then they changed their mind and asked their models and sales reps to wear shirts. This shift in brand identity was not only costly but it moved away from an older (and original) set of core values, which were “personal freedom and rustic simplicity.” The switch to the concept of athletic and sexual was meant to appeal to young Americans, who were in perfect physical shape and had disposable income. Unfortunately, once this demographic started to face the worst job prospects in American history, the brand stopped thriving. A focus on nature and personal freedom would have been a more enduring message, one that is remembered even in tough economic times.

If we forget what’s important, how do we expect others to remember?

 

Speaking Tip: Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and memory traces.

 

Be Intentional With Your Audience