Mastering the Art of Spontaneous Speaking

by Andrea Pacini

Andrea, Phil and Matt Abrahams

We recently hosted a special event with Matt Abrahams, a well-known Stanford lecturer and the author of ‘Think Faster, Talk Smarter,’ as our special guest. The focus was on spontaneous speaking, an essential skill for effective communication today. Over 180 people signed up for the event, getting a chance to ask Matt their questions directly.

Here’s a quick overview of the main topics we covered during our chat.

How did you get into spontaneous speaking?

I got a head start in speaking spontaneously because of my last name, “Abrahams,” which often put me first in line in class. This meant I had to speak up a lot and early on, which sparked my interest in how to communicate well on the spot.

What’s your take on not being perfect when speaking?

It’s more about connecting with your audience than being perfect. Don’t stress about getting every word right. Instead, focus on the message you want to share. Remember, “good enough is great.”

Any advice on preparing to speak spontaneously?

Yes, even though it sounds counterintuitive, you can prepare for off-the-cuff speaking. It’s not about memorising but having key points and examples ready in your mind. Think of it like ingredients in a kitchen that you can use to whip up a meal when needed.

What’s the best way to deal with mistakes when you’re talking?

Think “next play” like in sports. If you mess up, don’t sweat it. Just keep going. If you get stuck, you can repeat what you just said or try saying it differently. The main thing is not to let a slip-up stop you in your tracks.

What if someone asks me something I don’t know the answer to?

Just be honest and say you don’t know, but tell them you’ll find out and get back to them. This keeps your trustworthiness intact and shows you’re committed to giving them the right info. Remember, it’s okay not to have all the answers.

How important is having a structure when you’re speaking off the cuff, and do you have tips for organising thoughts quickly?

Having a clear structure is super helpful. It keeps your thoughts organised and makes it easier for others to follow what you’re saying. A simple framework I like is “What, So What, Now What.” Start with “What” to lay out the facts, “So What” to talk about why it matters, and “Now What” to suggest what should happen next. This approach works in lots of situations, whether you’re answering questions, giving updates or sharing feedback.

What if I forget what to say?

If your mind goes blank, try repeating your last point or use a distraction like asking the audience a question. This gives you a moment to gather your thoughts and keep going.

How can I insert my point in a fast-paced meeting discussion? 

Use smart tricks like paraphrasing someone’s point, asking a relevant question, or expressing how you feel about the topic. This opens up space for your ideas smoothly.

Can you share tips on managing strong feelings while speaking?

Absolutely. Practise speaking in similar emotional states to what you expect in the real situation. This helps you manage your emotions better when it really counts.

What if anxiety gets the better of me while I’m speaking?

Remember, feeling nervous is normal. Try calming techniques like deep breathing. Engaging the audience with something like a video clip can also help shift your focus and ease the nerves.

How can I get better at speaking on the fly?

Practice is key. Put yourself in low-stakes situations where you can practise speaking without much pressure. Over time, this builds your confidence and skill.

Any advice for those speaking in a second language?

Focus on getting your message across rather than sounding perfect. Using repetition creatively can help clarify your points. And remember, it’s okay to have an accent; just start your introductions with something other than your name to give listeners a chance to adjust.

Is there anything important we haven’t talked about yet regarding spontaneous speaking?

Yes, listening is crucial. Paying close attention to what’s being said helps you respond more effectively. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak but really understand the conversation.

If you’re interested in getting more insights from Matt Abrahams on improving your spontaneous speaking skills, make sure to check out the event recording below. This is a great resource to help you speak more clearly and confidently on the fly.

Want to learn more?