Today I had a different choice. I could tell the group that this was a mistake and I would not be delivering a speech today. Or, I could take the next 20 minutes and come up with something that might interest the members of my club. I chose the latter. I decided to share a story about one of my favorite moments from launching a cycling fundraiser several years ago and the lessons I learned from my experience. Was it my best speech ever? No; but the club seemed to enjoy it. Was I happy that I didn’t pass on the opportunity? Absolutely!
I’ve shared the story above not to boast but rather to consider the topic of Improvisation or being called on the spot. This skill comes up for us in our professions, personal interactions and other areas. For example, we can be called on to create connecting points with donors as we’re waiting for a formal discussion. Or you may be called on unexpectedly to make introductory remarks at a meeting. It happens. I would suggest that rather than “winging it”, there are ways to prepare to be unprepared. Here are a couple suggestions for always having a few “unprepared thoughts” should you need them:
- Keep some tools in your toolbox: Do you have one or two interesting stories about a situation where you overcame a challenge or conflict? If it’s slightly self-deprecating, all the better as you can introduce light humor at nobody’s expense but your own. I’m suggesting this as leading with the weather (no!!), specific jokes, or the latest headlines can be somewhere between dull and potentially offensive;
- Take on the challenge: Finding yourself in an awkward or new situation can be scary - no doubt about it. And when it comes up, you’ll probably have a choice. For example, one on one, you can look at the ceiling or bury yourself in the critical information coming in on your phone. Don’t do it. Take a breath and figure out how you can connect with another person or group through real and purposeful engagement;
- It’s just a moment in life: It’s a cliché but showing up is half the battle. In this case, speaking – saying anything really – is your win. You may not come up with the next topic for a thesis. But, if you’ve given it your best shot to make the most of a moment, realize that’s what it is. A moment (or two) in your life that will pass. So, seize it!