Speak with Confidence When You’re Put on the Spot

To be a truly impactful leader, you need to master the art of spontaneous speaking. This means not just delivering your carefully crafted keynote, but nailing the Q&A and small talk afterward, or making memorable off-the-cuff toasts and speeches. Contrary to popular assumptions, you don’t need to be an inherently charming extrovert to communicate effectively when put on the spot. Here’s how to build the muscle.

First, avoid predictable default responses, which prevent you from connecting with others in more genuine, appropriate, creative, and productive ways. Instead, invoke analogies or shared references that can help you engage your listeners. For example, when you’re asked to make a public introduction, don’t just list the roles on the person’s résumé—tell a story about how they added value to the team. To take some pressure off yourself, remember that you don’t need to be the star of the show. Listeners are more apt to trust and approve of you when you speak like a human being rather than an actor or a robot.

And finally, don’t underestimate the power of listening. Give yourself space to process the information. Paraphrasing or asking open-ended follow-up questions can help confirm your understanding and provide extra time to think about your response.

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