You’re on the spot, now what?

There’s nothing worse than being on the spot and not knowing what to say. It’s the perfect recipe for extreme embarrassment, and the horror of it can traumatize even the most resilient of hearts. In the past, I would start sweating profusely in an instantaneous attack of nerves that I hoped no one would see. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for the unexpected, and these simple strategies have helped me gain the confidence to handle being put on the spot. Here are 3 easy strategies for improving your impromptu public speaking skills. Regardless of how you choose to handle these situations, the bottom line is to be authentic through your voice and actions.

#1- Divide and conquer

You can always take apart a subject into different categories: pros and cons, before and after, the past, the present and the future, etc. Breaking down an idea into a couple of categories also helps you organize your thoughts in an instant. I have a friend who almost always starts his opinions by saying “Well, there are two ways to look at it…” or “I have two thoughts about that…” This strategy is especially useful when you are given a general topic to talk about or comment on. Here’s one I got recently, “Hey Alex, you’re from Venezuela, why don’t you tell us about that?” I handled it by telling them the best and worst aspects of living in Venezuela. Divide your ideas into different categories, and you will conquer these public speaking opportunities.

#2- Always carry a story with you

Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, says that after he won the championship, it wasn’t enough to prepare for speeches; he had to learn to stay prepared to speak. One way you can stay prepared is to always have a couple of interesting stories ready to share with a willing crowd. If you’re put on the spot, you can always transition to your story by saying something like “well, this reminds me of a funny encounter I had…” or “I don’t know anything about that, but I do have  a story to share with you…” Use this technique as a back-up plan to Divide and

Conquer, unless your story happens to relate perfectly to the topic at hand. Also, look for ways to make the storyrelevant to the occasion or audience. In other words, move on to #3 if you’re asked to talk about financial management and the only interesting stories you can think of are about horse racing (which can be relevant, but you get the point).

#3- Be reactive

If you can’t think of ways to divide your ideas, and no stories come to mind, then your best bet is to be reactive. You can react to the events you’ve seen that day, comment on what someone else said, or say something about how you’re feeling being there. Something else may pop into your mind in the meantime, but the important point is to stay honest and authentic.