There is a great article on LinkedIn titled, “Why Everyone Needs an Elevator Pitch?” by Deep Nishar. Impromptu speaking can occur anywhere or with anyone — from the CEO of your firm, a foreign visitor, or a news reporter.
In the article, Nishar provides a cafeteria scene where Sally, a senior executive, asks Joe how he’s doing? The article goes on to provide three different responses that Joe may give:
- Short and sweet: “I’m fine.”
- Mumbling: “Fine” and at a lost for words.
- Knowledgeable: “I’m doing great” and expounds on what his team is doing.
However, I want to take the dialogue one step further. Suppose Joe and Sally are on the elevator together and instead of Sally asking “How are you doing?” asks, “What are your thoughts about the U.S. possibly pulling all troops from Afghanistan by 2014?” This is your opportunity to do one of two things — answer intelligently because you’re prepared or mumble something ridiculous because you are stumped. So, not only do you have to be prepared, you must also be well read and up-to-date on what’s happening in the world and in your surroundings. So, I recommend taking 10 minutes each day to listen to the morning and evening news; and if you commute into work, make sure to pick up a newspaper or have CNN bookmarked on your iPad to scan headlines instead of taking a quick-morning snooze. Then, possibly your answer could be:
“My major concern would be that before the U.S. pulls out there are unequivocally no safe havens for al Qaeda to reside.”
but definitely not mumbling and using “um” or “you know” as fillers:
“Um, I haven’t really given it much thought, um…” or “if we can get our troops back home, you know, that’s a good thing, you know….”
Yes, there are many people who may be shy/introverted, tongue-tied, or just downright afraid that they might utter the wrong thing and look or feel like a simpleton. But there’s an answer — preparation. Preparation is vital and key.
One way to learn how to be prepared in any speaking situation — whether it’s impromptu conversations, speaking before an audience, or just answering a question in a meeting — is to join Toastmasters International. This organization has been around since 1924 and has been the cornerstone of helping people improve and sharpen their speaking skills. Toastmasters works because it’s a learn-by-doing workshop. There are no instructors; members evaluate each other’s oral presentations. This non-pressure tactic and environment are a key part to the program’s success.
Toastmasters focuses on elevator pitch/impromptu talks. At its weekly meetings, a member can be assigned the task of asking three secret questions of his/her choosing and then select three different members to respond to one of the random questions in one minute or less. During the member’s elevator pitch, his “ahs, ums, and you knows” are counted. Then, all members get to vote on which member gave the best impromptu answer within the time allotted. These real-life exercises help increase a speaker’s self-confidence.
So be prepared because today could be the day that your CEO asks, “What do you think about pot being sold and regulated like alcohol and tobacco?”