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Volume 5, Issue 28

Tips to Boost Impromptu Speaking Skills

Leaders tend to overestimate their impromptu speaking skills, according to two researchers—but professionals can use several tactics to speak well off-the-cuff.

In a paper published in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, executive coach Anett Grant and University of Minnesota Ph.D. candidate Amanda Taylor researched how well chief executive officers know their own public speaking strengths and weaknesses. They analyzed video interviews of 40 chief executive officers, analyzing their responses on content and delivery. Many leaders who claimed they had strong delivery skills actually used plenty of filler words (such as "ah" or "um"). On the other hand, many who claimed they had strong content skills gave responses that lacked in organization and depth.

"CEOs did not have an accurate picture of their strengths and weaknesses," Grant said in an interview with Associations Now. "This is troublesome for chief executives because of the 'always-on' nature of today's business world. Impromptu speaking is extremely important in this environment."

Leaders of any organization may find themselves in an impromptu discussion or giving an off-the-cuff presentation. Here are Grant's tips to give you a sense of control, even if you're not holding a script:

Watch the "ums." One skill that leaders overestimate is their fluency, says Grant.

"By fluency I mean, do they have a lot of "ah's", "er's", "you know's," she says.

It can be easier to be more fluent in a rehearsed speech than an impromptu one. Grant suggests that professionals focus on breathing.

"You have to connect your speaking with your breathing," she says.

Know and practice your signature phrases. Learn your phrasing patterns, Grant advises. It's easy to be fluent if you have practiced speaking in key phrases.

Work on your rhythm and repetition. "One easy way to get into a rhythm is to use what's called a rhythmic build or a repetition because if you use repetition, you have time to think," suggests Grant. "If you use repetition, you get into patterning. If you use repetition, you create a crescendo."

This article is from the Advancement Weekly, Jan. 18, 2016 issue.

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