Speaking of Being on the Spot…
by Joan Janis
I was in church recently, when the pastor gave out kudos to the brunch team for their fine job. He began with my friend Virginia, since she was closest to the front, saying how wonderful she was. As if he had it planned, he walked right up to 98-year-old Virginia, stuck the microphone in her face, and asked her to please stand and introduce the rest of the brunch team. Well! Poor Virginia’s face went red, her mouth went dry, and her mind went blank. She looked right at the rest of the team, women she’d served brunch with side-by-side for forty-one years, and could not remember even one person’s name. Panicked, teary-eyed, she thrust the microphone away and sat, burying her head in her hands, so embarrassed. What would you have done if that were you?
Have you ever been put on the spot in a group situation? For most of us, this is a worst-nightmare scenario! Speaking in public is bad enough, but to speak with no preparation—that’s got to be the WORST!
Here are three secrets that professional speakers use whenever they are asked to speak extemporaneously, or “off the cuff.” If you can recall these ideas in the heat of the moment, next time you’re on the spot, it will help to calm you down.
- Start by taking a deep breath. In that moment, take the time to compose your thoughts. Don’t let anyone pressure to begin speaking the second you stand up. During your pause, take a moment to look around at each person in the group, look them right in the eyes. This gives you time to think, and prepares the audience to listen. A couple of deep breaths brings oxygen to your brain, which helps you think.
- Be Yourself. In the speaking world, this is referred to as “being authentic.” What does that mean? It means tell the truth. If you don’t know something, admit you don’t know it. The reason Americans so universally hate our politicians is because they are not allowed to be themselves. If you need to do more research before you can give an answer, say so. If you don’t want to answer, say so. People respect that more than empty words.
- Be Easy. Do your best, and don’t be hard on yourself. The people who are listening don’t have a script, they don’t know what you are about to say. If you leave something out, forget a part, say something out of order—so what? They will never know. The world is not going to come to an end because of it. Put it in that perspective, and it will be less scary to speak.
Next time you’re on the hot seat, remember these tips. You’ll relax, breathe, and enjoy yourself. Life is too short to get traumatized by those occasions when you are called upon to speak on short notice. Joan Janis teaches “How to ROCK the Room!: Speak, Connect & Get Ahead”.