IMPROMPTU SPEAKING: How To Prepare for an unfamiliar role, covering for someone in a meeting, or acting up in a senior role

IMPROMPTU SPEAKING: How To Prepare for an unfamiliar role, covering for someone in a meeting, or acting up in a senior role.

Speaking off the cuff or impromptu can be challenging, particularly when you’re stepping into an unfamiliar role or covering for someone else in a meeting. The ability to handle such situations with confidence and competence not only enhances your professional image but also ensures the continuity and efficiency of your team’s work. Here are some strategies to effectively prepare for and handle off-the-cuff speaking in these circumstances:

1. Understand the Context and Prepare in Advance

Whenever possible, prepare for the meeting by reading the agenda, minutes of previous meetings, and any other relevant documents. This helps you anticipate topics of discussion and formulate preliminary thoughts. If you know you’ll be filling in ahead of time, ask the person you are covering for about key issues, ongoing projects, and potential questions that may arise. This briefing can provide invaluable insights and allow you to prepare more specific responses.

2. Take Notes and Identify Key Stakeholders

While preparing, take notes on critical points and identify the main stakeholders involved in each agenda item. Understanding who is affected by which topics can help you direct questions or comments to the right people during the meeting, facilitating more effective and targeted discussions.

3. Practice Active Listening

During the meeting, practice active listening. This means paying close attention not only to what is said but also to what is left unsaid. This can help you catch nuances and underlying issues, which in turn can guide your responses and ensure they are relevant and thoughtful.

4. Taking Questions on Notice

If asked a question you can’t answer immediately, it’s perfectly acceptable to take the question on notice. You can say something like, “I don’t have that information at hand, but I will make a note of it and ensure we get back to you promptly after the meeting.” This approach shows that you are responsible and committed to providing accurate information, rather than improvising potentially incorrect answers.

5. Use Phrasing Techniques to Buy Time

When you need a moment to think, employ phrases that can buy you time. Phrases such as “That’s a great question, let me think about that for a moment,” or “Let’s consider the implications of that suggestion,” can give you a few seconds to formulate a more coherent response.

6. Leverage Collective Knowledge

Don’t hesitate to defer to others when appropriate. If there are other attendees who might have more specific knowledge on a topic, you can say something like, “I believe [colleague’s name] can provide more detailed insights into this matter.” This not only helps in providing the most accurate information but also demonstrates your ability to collaborate and utilize team resources effectively.

7. Follow Up

After the meeting, make sure to follow up on any commitments you made, such as answering questions you took on notice or circulating additional information. Prompt follow-up not only enhances your credibility but also shows dedication to your role and respect for your colleagues and their needs.

8. Reflect and Learn

Finally, reflect on the experience. Consider what went well and what could be improved for next time. Continuous learning from each experience will enhance your confidence and proficiency in off-the-cuff speaking and acting in unfamiliar roles.

By employing these strategies, you can navigate the challenges of impromptu speaking more effectively, turning potential stress into an opportunity to demonstrate your adaptability, professionalism, and leadership skills.

If you would like to learn more about impromptu speaking, Peter is running his Thinking And Speaking Off The Cuff workshop in Perth on 31 May and Port Hedland on 27 June.

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