The Special Speech: Impromptu Speaking

I wasn’t expecting to say anything, yet every eye was looking at me.  Walking around the organization, I was planning on making small talk with the team, thanking a few individuals, and asking questions on how things were going.  The next thing I knew, one of the workers asked if I would address the group as a whole.  They wanted to know my thoughts on some recent rumors they heard and how that might affect their daily activities.  Leaders have to be prepared to give a speech to their team at any time on any topic—I wasn’t.

Based on this failed experience, I now call impromptu speaking engagements “The Special Speech.”  In the Lego Movie, our hero Emmet was newly discovered as the leader of the Master Builders.  They needed a plan to defeat the bad guy, and Emmet, an ordinary construction worker, was the man the prophecy appointed to lead.  His mentor introduces him for the first time to the veteran group of Master Builders and without warning says: “The special will now give an eloquent speech.”  It only goes downhill from there.

I’ve found in my leadership journey that if you’re in charge of a group, no matter how small, they want to hear the leader’s thoughts.  Sometimes they have specific questions, but mostly, they want to know what the boss is thinking about.  Are they doing a good job?  Is management understanding and addressing their frustrations?  What does the future hold?  It is a leader’s job to be ready to speak in front of groups of people at any time, on any topic.  And the team expects it to be eloquent.

Personally, I am not an off-the-cuff speaker.  I am more comfortable with knowing I’ll be asked to speak about a specific topic and taking time to prepare my thoughts.  However, I’ve also realized that leaders are called upon to speak often, and it is impossible to anticipate every single one.  But there are ways to be prepared for the surprise.

First, if a leader is going to be walking around a group of people, assume there’ll be a time when they get asked to say some words.  Simply by assuming, it eliminates any surprise.  The Special Speech goes from an unexpected event to a known item on the agenda that removes the shock of not knowing what to say.  Moreover, the words move from a random mix of sentences to a well-thought-out flow of ideas that actually have a positive impact on the group.

Second, have a planned speech.  A planned speech is different from a canned speech in that the leader thinks about the audience and tailors it to the group.  This narrative usually has the following components:  Thanks for the hard work; specific accomplishments and who recognizes those; the bigger picture; acknowledging challenges the group faces, providing purpose, direction, and motivation for the future; reinforcing your key leadership themes; and more thanks.  The speech must hit at areas the group truly relates to instead of generic issues.  Caution: watch the clock.  People want to hear you, but it is easy to talk too much.

Third, write it down.  Having notes on a 3 x 5 card is a great way to ensure you hit the main points.  It is important to touch on key themes and messages so that the team feels valued, catches the vision, and understands what you are asking of them.  A notecard keeps the leader on topic and within time.  While holding a card isn’t preferred, laying it on a nearby surface can help keep the speaker on track with a momentary glance.

Fourth, know current events.  Teams want to see that you’re maintaining currency and understanding the impact on the group.  Know what is important to the team and how recent events affect their lives.  For example, are there rumors floating around that everyone is talking about, do world events affect how business is done, or does an external, public decision impact the team?  Don’t get blindsided by what everyone is already talking about.

Finally, smile.  Leaders need to project confidence and thankfulness.  A smile goes a long way in connecting with the audience.  No one wants to be led by an angry manager.  Even if you’re not, look like you’re having a good day.

The Special Speech can be a challenging event if not anticipated.  Leaders need to be able to speak at any time about almost any subject, even if the answer is that you simply don’t know at this time, and you’ll get back to them.  However, expecting have a group call upon you to give an eloquent speech and having a preplanned message goes a long way to building a repertoire.  Every speaking event is an opportunity to advance the team—don’t let a Special Speech go to waste.

3 thoughts on “The Special Speech: Impromptu Speaking

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