Matt Abrahams on Spontaneous Speaking - The Ideas on Stage Podcast

by Andrea Pacini

Matt Abrahams and Andrea Pacini

In this episode of the Ideas on Stage podcast we spoke with Matt Abrahams. 

Matt Abrahams is a leading expert in communication with decades of experience as an educator, author, podcast host, and coach. As a Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he teaches popular classes in strategic communication and effective virtual presenting. He received Stanford GSB’s Alumni Teaching Award in recognition of his teaching students around the world.

His online talks garner millions of views and he hosts the popular, award-winning podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart The Podcast. His new book Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot provides tangible, actionable skills to help even the most anxious of speakers succeed when speaking spontaneously, such as navigating Q&A sessions, shining in job interviews, providing effective feedback, making small talk, fixing faux pas, persuading others.

In this episode we talked about spontaneous speaking. 


Andrea Pacini: “Matt, can you talk about how we can become better communicators?”

Matt Abrahams: “We can all put in work to become more confident, clear, and compelling communicators. It takes three things: repetition, reflection, and feedback. Practice is essential, along with reflecting on what needs change and leaning into strengths, and getting feedback from trusted sources.”

Andrea Pacini: “In your book, you mention that imperfection in communication is okay. Can you tell me more about this concept?”

Matt Abrahams: “Imperfection is indeed okay, and ‘good enough’ is great. The notion is counterintuitive, but it’s about maximising mediocrity in communication to achieve greatness. It’s more about connection than perfection. The pursuit of being perfect can actually hinder effective communication.”

Andrea Pacini: “How should we handle mistakes in conversations?”

Matt Abrahams: “We need to adopt the ’next play’ mentality, moving on from mistakes rather than fixating on them. It’s crucial to stay present and not ruminate on what just happened. Reflecting later is key to improving future interactions.”

Andrea Pacini: “What are your thoughts on preparing for spontaneous conversations?”

Matt Abrahams: “Preparation is key, even for spontaneous speaking. It’s about having themes and examples in mind, not memorising answers. For example, before a job interview, think about specific themes you want to convey and examples that support those themes.”

Andrea Pacini: “Can you talk about the importance of structure in communication?”

Matt Abrahams: “Structure is vital, especially in spontaneous situations. Our brains respond positively to a logical connection of ideas — a beginning, a middle, and an end. Problem-solution-benefit is a common structure, but there are many others like ‘What? So What? Now What?’ that is equally effective. The ‘What? So What? Now What?’ structure is versatile for many situations. It helps you introduce a topic (What), explain its relevance (So What), and suggest next steps or actions (Now What).”

Andrea Pacini: “Can you give some examples of how to prepare in advance for spontaneous conversations?”

Matt Abrahams: “Certainly. For example, in a job interview, you can prepare by thinking of themes and examples that you want to bring up. You can also use generative AI like Bard or ChatGPT to create practice questions. For small talk, think about topics or questions related to the event ahead of time.”

Andrea Pacini: “In your book, you brought up the importance of the ‘Yes, and’ technique from improvisational comedy. How does this apply to everyday conversations?”

Matt Abrahams: “‘Yes, and’ is about accepting and building upon ideas. It’s beneficial in conflict resolution, small talk, and creative endeavours. By finding areas of agreement and building on them, we can collaborate more effectively.”

Andrea Pacini: “How can the ‘Yes, and’ principle be applied in formal presentations?”

Matt Abrahams: “In formal presentations, ‘Yes, and’ helps you adapt to unexpected situations, like audience reactions or technical issues. It allows you to accept what’s happening and respond in a way that keeps the flow of the presentation.”

Andrea Pacini: “Why do you consider focus to be the most important word in spontaneous speaking?”

Matt Abrahams:Focus is crucial because it helps you be concise and relevant. We often say more than necessary, so focusing on what’s most relevant and having a clear goal for the conversation helps keep your message tight and effective.”

Andrea Pacini: “Can you give an example of a company that effectively used focus in their communication?”

Matt Abrahams: “Google is a great example. They worked on creating a concise and focused mission statement by starting with the core message and building from there. This approach helped them communicate clearly and effectively.” [Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful].

Andrea Pacini: “What are your thoughts on simplifying communication, especially when discussing complex topics?”

Matt Abrahams: “Simplifying communication is about making complex information accessible, not dumbing it down. For example, Lego’s instruction manuals are wordless yet clear, demonstrating an understanding of their audience’s needs and abilities.”

Andrea Pacini: “How significant is listening in spontaneous speaking and communication in general?”

Matt Abrahams: “Listening is crucial. It’s about understanding not just what is said but how it’s said. In spontaneous speaking, listening helps ensure that our response is appropriate to the context and nuance of the conversation.”

Andrea Pacini: “If there was one key takeaway from our conversation, what would you want it to be?”

Matt Abrahams: “The key takeaway is that everyone can work on becoming more confident, clear, and compelling communicators. It’s a process that involves practice, reflection, and getting feedback.”

Books recommended by Matt: 

  • Made to Stick by Dan Heath and Chip Heath 
  • Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson 

Available on: 


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I hope you enjoy it!

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