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    Hacking Your Anxiety

    In honor of ending of 2016, I thought I would bring back one of the first blogs from this past year. May 2017 be full of excitement and opportunity for you all! In conjunction with the release of my 3rd edition of Speaking Up without Freaking Out, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business released this new infographic on Hacking Your Anxiety that derives its content from my book. hackAnxiety

      No More Blanking Out: Two new neuroscience studies illuminate ways not to forget.

      Every time I discuss “Speaking Up without Freaking Out,” I start with the simple question: “What freaks you out the most about speaking?” Time and time again, I hear the answer: “Forgetting what I intended to say.” While I have written elsewhere about how to increase the likelihood of remembering your presentation (and what to do if we do go blank), I am always looking for new insights to help. I recently came across the following two neuroscience studies that I believe can assist in assuaging the fear of forgetting.

      Test Yourself

      Your high school language teachers had it right. Frequent quizzing helps with memory. Numerous studies have found that cramming to memorize anything, including presentations, is nowhere near as effective as when you test your recall as you steadily learn something. Testing while preparing to deliver a speech might include asking yourself questions such as “what attention grabber am I starting out with?” or “how do I transition between my first two point?” New research now adds to this literature by suggesting that the timing of your testing matters. You should be sure to test yourself immediately after learning – say within the first hour, and then again at regular intervals (e.g., daily). This schedule of testing shows an increased level of accurate recall.

      Speak To Others

      Too often, presenters practice inside their heads and not out loud. It is critical for remembering that you recite your presentation aloud. In so doing, you aid memory by involving not just your verbal memory, but your sensorimotor memory as well. By leveraging both of these memory systems, you increase retention. New research out of the University of Montreal’s Linguistics Department shows that you can turbo charge this memory recall increase if you speak your speech out loud to another person in real time. By having a recipient for your practiced presentation, you additionally invoke other brain systems responsible for interpersonal communication, which further augment recall.

      The Bottom Line: Have someone listen and then test you

      Taken together, this new memory research suggests you can reduce the likelihood of forgetting your presentation if you invite a colleague to not only listen to you, but then have him or her quiz you on what you have said. In so doing, you should boost your recall and reduce blanking out.

        Toastmasters Podcast #111: Be Confident When Caught Off Guard – Matt Abrahams

        As the holidays approach, many of us will find ourselves being called upon to speak spontaneously (e.g., give a toast, lead a prayer, honor someone with a gift or award). This type of impromptu speaking can cause a lot of anxiety and reduce the likelihood of our success. Please listen to this podcast I did for Toastmasters to learn techniques to help you speak more confidently in spontaneous speaking situations.

          Two Fun Ways to Avoid Blanking Out

          Blanking out when delivering a presentation reigns supreme among the many worries that haunt nervous and novice public speakers. Luckily, results from two recent research programs suggest fun and social ways to enhance your remembering and reduce the likelihood of forgetting what you plan to say when presenting in from of others.

          Do something intense

          Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern online pharmacy Medical Center found that memory and recall are increased when you have “attention grabbing experiences” immediately after learning or rehearsing something. They believe the neuro-chemical dopamine released by the brain region called the locus coeruleus (LC) is responsible for this enhancement. They argue this chemical release could potentially explain why people can remember major life events (e.g., first kiss, car accidents, etc.) with much more detail. “Attention grabbing experiences” can be anything that gets you intensely focused. Activities such as playing a video game or a sport should stimulate the LC to release more dopamine. The key seems to be proximity of the learning to the engaging activity. So don’t wait too long before doing something that grabs your attention. Try this: When practicing your next presentation, consider taking a few quick breaks to do something that gets you actively engaged.

          Share your stories

          According to researchers at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, people synchronize what they remember when sharing with others in a group. This phenomenon is called “mnemonic convergence.” As you communicate your message with a group and they repeat it back, both parties not only begin to synchronize their messages, but the messages are remembered and recalled better. The mechanism leading to this synchrony is not yet understood, but it is possible that this type of convergence might have conferred some evolutionary advantage. Regardless, leveraging others to help you remember and later recall your material is an easy way to avoid forgetting. Try this: To better remember your presentations, deliver your message to others and ask them to share it back to you.

            Conquer Public Speaking Fear: How to Craft Compelling Presentations

            If a looming business pitch, presentation, or toast makes your heart race and hands clammy, you’re certainly not alone. Most studies show the average person ranks the fear of public speaking above the fear of death. We think most fears can be conquered with a little courage and a lot of preparation, so we turned to Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out, co-founder of Bold Echo, LLC, a seasoned lecturer at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business to drop his knowledge about creating effective speeches and presentations that will both calm your nerves and move your audience. The power of presenting well has become increasingly important to professional success. But guidance on how to project, enunciate, and speak clearly is much more abundant than information on how to create the presentations that will inform your speech. In what follows, I will focus on the three key building blocks of a compelling presentation: audience analysis, structure, and support.

            Audience Analysis

            Contrary to popular belief, every successful presentation should begin with your audience, instead of the topic you’re covering. Many speakers make the mistake of assuming that giving a presentation is about them as speakers. When you prepare a talk from your perspective, you not only miss an opportunity to connect with your audience, but you are likely to make assumptions, use jargon, or skip over ideas that are familiar to you but foreign to your audience. Just as effective marketing starts with your target audience,  

            effective presenters never ask themselves, “What do I want to say?” Instead, they ask, “What does my audience need to hear?”

              These two questions might sound similar, but they are very different. By embracing an audience-focused approach, you both engage your audience, since you’re giving them what they need, and you will present content that builds their knowledge, helping them understand your message in a way that sets them up to remember and act upon what you say. The audience-centric approach does require some extra work. You have to take time to get to know your audience. Ask yourself the following three questions about your audience:
            1. What knowledge and/or past experience(s) have my audience had with my topic? If your audience knows about your topic, you can begin at a different place than if they are new to it. Often, you have an audience whose knowledge of your topic varies. In this case, start by notifying your audience that you will take a few minutes at the beginning of your presentation to scaffold the knowledge of those less “in the know” and then you will continue. This approach motivates the neophytes and prepares the more knowing members of your audience that their turn will be coming soon.
            2. What attitudes and emotions do my audience have toward my topic? Supportive and excited audiences afford you the opportunity to dive right in and share your thoughts. However, hesitant and resistant audiences require more care up front to reduce their defensiveness. Rather than jump right into your arguments supporting your viewpoint, the best way to start with a skeptical audience is to acknowledge common ground. For example, it is often the case that resistant audiences agree with the overarching goal you are trying to achieve, but disagree on your means. Or, they agree with the benefits you’re espousing, but doubt your road map of how to achieve those benefits. By emphasizing the common goal or benefits, you can potentially convert naysayers or at least encourage them to lower their resistance and listen.
            3. How proximal am I to my audience in terms of organizational status and influence? The closer you are to your audience in terms of organizational status (e.g., you are their direct manager), the more concrete your message should be. Similarly, the more remote you are from your audience members (e.g., C-level presenting to line employees), the more abstract and strategic your content should be. Audiences prefer specifics when the presenter has more direct influence over them in day-to-day activities. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to relay details (e.g., deliverables, deadlines, etc.) that are tied to individuals in your audience.Ultimately, the answers to these questions help you to focus your speaking goal, which will serve as your magnetic north and help ensure that you and your audience stay on track.

            Structure

            Once you understand your audience, you must next structure your content so your audience can more easily follow you and remember what you say. Having a clear structure and visual presentation tools to support it, will help you and your audience stay on track and help you prepare. Research shows that people retain structured information more reliably and accurately than information that is presented in an unstructured, rambling manner. This is due to what cognitive neuroscientists call processing fluency: Structured information can be more fluently processed with greater fidelity. There are many structures that can help you craft the type of presentations to give:
            • Past-Present-Future — good for providing a history, stepping people through a process, or laying out a strategic direction
            • Cause-Effect-Result— good for helping people understand the underlying logic of your position
            • Problem-Solution-Benefit — good for influencing people to support your ideas/plans
            Select the structure that most easily allows you to make your point or tell your story.

            Support

            Once you have your structure selected, you can embellish it with detailed evidence, such as data, stories, and testimonials. Be sure to vary the types of evidence you use to support the claims in your presentation. Too often, presenters exclusively use their favorite type of support, such as use cases or definitions. The better approach is to triangulate your support. For example, you could provide a data point embedded in a story that defines one of your main points. This triangulation neatly reinforces your point, and it allows your audience multiple opportunities to connect with your idea and remember it. Taken together, audience analysis, structure, and support form the foundation for any connected and compelling presentation. The extra effort and time you spend structuring and supporting your audience-centric presentations will pay big dividends in terms of audience engagement during your presenting and retention after you are done. Matt Abrahams is the author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out, a lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and co-founder of Bold Echo, LLC.

              10 Tips For Giving Effective Virtual Presentations

              What to know before you go live.

              virtualpresenting-key_1

              Presenting online? Try these suggestions to improve your results. | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

              As audiences go global and you need to reach more people through technology (including webinars, conference calls and teleconference), you must consider the challenges to connecting with a virtual audience. Here I pinpoint 10 valuable best practices to ensure you communicate successfully.

              1. Be Brief

              Audiences begin to lose attention after roughly 10 minutes of hearing from the same presenter. If you have more than 10 minutes of content, use interactive activities to keep your audience engaged (for example, take a poll, give quizzes, or ask audience members for their opinions via chat).

              2. Be Simple

              Keep slides simple — avoid too many words, graphics and animation features. Less is definitely more!
              02-virtualpresenting-lamp_1

              Light yourself well | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

              3. Be a TV Personality

              Look straight into your camera, not the screen. Wear clothing that is neutral in color (no plaids or stripes). Light yourself well and from above. Be mindful of what appears behind you in the background. Invest in a good microphone.

              4. Be Standing

              Even though your audience cannot see you, stand when you present. This allows you to stay focused and use good presentation delivery skills such as belly breathing, vocal variety, and pausing.

              5. Be Prepared

              Practice delivering your presentation with your technology in advance of your talk. Make sure all of the features of the technology work. Record your practice using the recording feature of your tool. Watch and listen to learn what works and what you can improve.

              6. Be Assisted

              Have someone available to deal with technical issues and to field email/text questions. Also, if you have multiple remote audience members in one location, be sure to pick one of them to be your “eyes and ears.” Ask them to queue up questions and facilitate discussion on your behalf.

              7. Be Specific

              Ask pointed questions to avoid too many people answering at once. For example, rather than ask, “Are there any questions?” try “Who has a question about the solution I provided?” Set a ground rule that people state their names prior to speaking.
              03-virtualpresenting-pics_1

              Imagine your audience | Illustration by Tricia Seibold

              8. Be Synchronized

              Transitions are critical. You must connect what you just said to what is coming next when you move from point to point. Transitions between topics and slides are good opportunities to get people reengaged to your talk.

              9. Be Connected

              Imagine your audience even though you can’t see them. You can place pictures of audience members behind your camera so you can look at people as you present.

              10. Be Early

              Encourage your audience to access your call or webinar in advance of the start time so you can iron out any technical issues in advance and get them familiar with the technology. Matt Abrahams is a Stanford GSB organizational behavior lecturer, author, and communications coach.

                Meetings 2.0

                For most of us meetings are a drag and a waste of time, yet new research and technology are coming forward to change the way we meet and what we get out of meeting.

                Tie up your laces.

                Research done by the US military as well as academic institutions has shown that standing or walking meetings are more efficient and productive. The main reason these types of meetings seem to help is that they eliminate distractions. Too often, people seated around a table divert their attention to their computers and phones. When standing or walking, focus is fixed. Of course, documenting your action items and what was discussed needs to adapt too. Success can be found by using voice memos or dictation.

                Huddle up

                Not all meetings are alike. For example, some are for strategic planning, while others are for status updates. Yet another kind of meeting is for quick decisions and consolidating information (versus multiple, iterative emails). This last type of meeting often follows the same scheduling and process as the other types. This need not be the case though. When quick action or coordination is required, simply call a huddle. These brief meetings need only last a few minutes and can be schedule on the fly. They can take place around the water cooler or in someone’s cube.. If consistent ground rules are employed (e.g., minimal time spent, only key stake holders attend, anyone can ask for a more formal meeting), these spontaneous meetings can be very effective.

                There’s an app for that.

                New tools for managing meetings are coming out all of the time. Here are two of my favorites:
                • Do.com: This web app allows you to schedule meetings leveraging, include agendas, and track meeting notes easily. Additionally, it allows you to run meetings via tools like Google Hang Outs and Skype.
                • Zeetings: This app is fantastic for real-time, virtual collaboration, but its real value is keeping the meeting alive after people have left. It provides a highly interactive environment that is easy to use.
                It is now easier than ever to meet effectively and efficiently.

                  Why Are Speakers 19% Less Confident in Impromptu Settings?

                  One of the advantages of QC’s global communication database is that it allows us to look for aggregate trends in communication styles. For example, we use our proprietary language analytics platform to measure close to 1,000 earnings calls every quarter. And every quarter, we see a similar pattern: Speakers are consistently more confident during prepared remarks than Q&A. In fact, when we looked at the 4,000+ earnings calls we’ve already measured in 2016, we found the prepared remarks have been, on average, 19 percent more confident than the Q&As. confidence_in_prepared_v_qa_guest_post_2 This discrepancy isn't limited to financial communication — our coaches frequently find that executive clients who excel in rehearsed situations struggle with confidence in unscripted settings like interviews and feedback sessions. It’s a trend we see over and over again in our work:

                  It’s much harder for speakers to demonstrate confidence in spontaneous communication settings than in prepared addresses.

                  We wondered why, so we asked expert Matt Abrahamsone of our collaborators at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of Speaking up without Freaking Out. Matt has plenty of insights as to why spontaneous speaking is such a difficult skill to develop, and we’re honored to share his perspective on the unique challenges of impromptu speaking and building confidence in communicating in off-the-cuff situations:

                  3 Reasons Speakers are Less Confident in Impromptu Settings

                  The vast majority of leadership communication is spontaneous. I’m referring to those in-the-moment responses that are supposed to add value, provide direction, and give insight. Think of being called on to introduce someone to others, or having your boss ask you for feedback during a meeting, or handling questions from the media at the end of your presentation. These situations occur all time, yet many people flail — and potentially fail — in these spontaneous speaking situations when the stakes are high and the time to prepare is low. Why is this? Why are leaders less confident and competent when confronted with a litany of spontaneous speaking situations? Based on my experience, I have identified three major challenges that confront leaders in impromptu speaking situations:

                  1. Our Nerves Get the Better of Us

                  One of the many benefits of preparing presentations is that we can manage the anxiety we feel about speaking. Most people experience anxiety when communicating in front of others, but proper preparation and practice allow you to become less nervous and more comfortable. Spontaneous engagements do not afford speakers this time and opportunity to manage anxiety. I routinely see corporate and governmental leaders confidently deliver their prepared remarks only to wilt under the weight of their anxiety in post-presentation interactions with their audiences.

                  2. We’re in Our Own Way

                  The next thing that gets in our way when speaking off the cuff is ourselves. Our desire to do well, to give the right answer, to offer meaningful and memorable feedback, actually works against us. Before we speak, we judge what we intend to say and weigh it against our internal criteria: What I plan to say isn’t insightful/helpful/worthy/relevant, etc. This pre-speaking evaluation distracts us from the actual goal, which is simply to answer a question or introduce a colleague, and prevents us from clearly and concisely communicating our points.

                  3. We See the Interaction as an Obstacle or Challenge to Overcome

                  Often in the midst of spontaneous speaking situations, we see the required/desired communication as an obstacle to overcome or a threat to handle, rather than an opportunity to clarify a message and further engage with the audience. For example, executives often view the Q&A sessions that follow their presentations as adversarial experiences — them versus the media, investors, whomever. The experience becomes more about surviving and defending than explaining and extending. This confrontational view can be very stressful and restricts the mental dexterity that aids fluent, impromptu speaking.

                  So How Can We Speak More Confidently?

                  The reality is that spontaneous speaking requires us to think on our feet, quickly identifying both what you’re going to say and the best way to deliver the information. Fortunately, once we understand why impromptu speaking presents such a challenge, we can use several cognitive reframing techniques to comfortably and adeptly respond to these situations. Cognitive reframing is a method of changing the way in which we habitually evaluate and respond to situations. By changing the way we think about something — essentially reprogramming our brains to view challenging circumstances in a different way — we can shift our instinctual reactions and responses.

                  Three specific cognitive reframing techniques can help executives address the challenges identified earlier and become more confident off-the-cuff speakers.

                  1. Reframe the event as a conversation, rather than a performance.

                  The idea of a “performance” comes with a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver an Oscar-winning response. Instead, by thinking of our communication as a conversation, we can reduce stress and become more engaged. Because there’s no one “right way” to have a conversation, this lens helps speakers focus on the audience and their needs, thus reducing their own self-focused anxiety.

                  2. Instead of trying to wow the crowd, aim to accomplish only the task at hand.

                  When we try to impress the boss or win over the audience, we end up stressed and distracted from the primary goal. Instead, I encourage speakers to focus only on what’s been asked of them: answer the question, provide feedback, or introduce a colleague. By zeroing in on the actual goal, we can reduce the pressure we put on ourselves and increase our chances of doing well.

                  3. View the audience as a friend, not a foe.

                  An out-of-the-blue request to speak is much friendlier when we frame it as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle to overcome. This isn’t a test, but a chance to engage the audience, to answer questions, and to open up a conversation. And the audience isn’t our enemy — if they didn’t want to hear what we had to say, they wouldn’t have asked. Quantified Communications found that speakers are less confident in impromptu situations — 19 percent less — but you don’t have to be. Time and time again, research has shown that effective communication skills are critical to success and satisfaction in our personal and professional lives. And since the vast majority of communication situations have some spontaneous elements to them, it is imperative that we become more confident, compelling and connected in these impromptu communication situations. It takes time and effort but, once you’ve mastered these techniques, you’ll be just as eloquent and engaging off-the-cuff as you are when you’ve spent weeks preparing.

                    Improving Your Memory and Performance

                    I am always on the look out for new research insights into how to improve our memory and performance. Presenters and meeting facilitators can certainly benefit from improved memory capabilities. What follows is a quick summary of three research programs that provide useful tips for all communicators. “I think I can.” Research conducted by the BBC Lab in the UK in conjunction with Dr. Andrew Lane found that people who use motivational self-talk, such as “I can do better next time,” actually do improve their performance. In essence, becoming your own motivational speaker increases the likelihood of improvement. Of course, this requires that you take time to think about improving our communication and reflect upon the steps you can/need to take to make the improvement. Many either ruminate on the negative outcomes of your presentations and meetings or you immediately jump ahead to whatever is next. The findings of this research dove tail nicely with a larger body of research on positive affirmations. “This is to that…” When presenting or leading a meeting, you have a lot of things to keep in mind -- Your communication structure, the specific points you intend to make, your opening and closing, etc. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have cues or reminders to aid in recalling what you need to remember when you need to remember it? Research from the labs of Todd Rogers (Harvard) and Katherine Milkman (Wharton) provides just the help that is needed. It turns out that “reminders through association” aid in remembering and following through. If through practice and pairing, you create an association between an image on a slide, a place in the room, or a particular time on the clock and your specific content, you are more likely to remember it as well as be able to communicate it. “Feel good to remember well.” Research by Javier Oyarzun demonstrates that your brain is better at encoding and recalling memories associated with positive emotions. If you can associate some positive feelings with your learning of new materials, you are more likely to remember it. For example, when preparing a presentation, you can focus on the excitement you feel at sharing your topic. If you are running a meeting, focus on the potential positive results as your prepare the agenda and content. In these ways, you improve your likelihood of remembering what you want to say, and you’ll be more confident because an added bonus of being positive is that it blunts anxiety that results from negative concerns about communicating. Taken together, these recent research tips on enhancing memory and performance will hopefully help you as you prepare, practice, and deliver your upcoming presentations and meetings.

                      Be Confident When Called On

                      Article featured in the August edition of the Toastmaster Magazine Speaking tips to help you thrive when caught off guard. On the first day of the business-school class I teach, my students fear me. Not because I am mean or unsympathetic, but because, like my fellow professors, I wield a tool that is simultaneously humbling and scary. The “cold call” is an age-old device to test students’ acumen on the spot. You simply point to a student and ask him or her to respond immediately to a question. I am not a fan of cold-calling in my teaching, and when I explain this to my students, you can hear the collective sigh of relief. However, I immediately tell them that we will work together to hone their impromptu speaking skills so they will be more comfortable and confident when confronted with cold calls or a litany of other spontaneous speaking situations in the future. To me, spontaneous speaking refers to any situation where you are asked to speak off the cuff and in the moment. The reality is that spontaneous speaking is much more prevalent than planned speaking (e.g., presentations). Think of being called on to introduce someone to others, or having your boss ask you for feedback on a new idea, or handling questions at the end of a meeting. These situations occur all of the time. As all Toastmasters know, Table Topics is a great way to practice this skill. Among the many members who praise the benefits of Table Topics training is Jeremey Donovan, DTM, co-author of the book How to Deliver a TED Talk. “Over the last 20 years, I have relied on countless Toastmasters skills to accelerate my career, but by far the most helpful have been the impromptu speaking skills that I developed practicing Table Topics,” he says. To boost your skills, combine your Table Topics practice with the following three steps.
                      1. Get out of your own way. The first thing that gets in your way when speaking off the cuff is you. Your desire to do well, to give the right answer, to have your feedback be meaningful and memorable, actually works against you. Before you speak, you likely judge what you intend to say and weigh it against your internal criteria: What I plan to say isn’t ___ (fill in the blank ... insightful, helpful, worthy, relevant, etc.). This pre-speaking evaluation inhibits you.Rather than striving for greatness, dare to just accomplish the task at hand—answer the question, provide the feedback, introduce your colleague. Reduce the pressure you put on yourself and you will increase your chances of doing well. Simply put: Setting greatness as your goal gets in the way of you getting there.Of course, this is easier said than done. You are working against the muscle memory you’ve developed over the course of your life with a brain that reacts very quickly to help you solve problems. But by giving yourself permission to respond in the moment, rather than get it “right,” you can get out of your own way and speak well.
                      2. See it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. You must also change how you perceive the speaking situation you’re in. See it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle or a threat. For example, when I coach executives on handling the Q&A session after their presentations, they often view the session as an adversarial experience—them versus the media, investors, whomever. I work with these senior leaders to change their perception. A Q&A session is actually an opportunity—to clarify, to understand, to dialogue and engage.If you look at impromptu speaking as an opportunity to explain and expand, you will interact with your audience in a more connected, collaborative way.

                        By giving yourself permission to respond in the moment, rather than get it “right,” you can get out of your own way and speak well.

                        Let’s say you are at a corporate dinner, and your boss turns to you and says, “You know our guest better than the rest of us. Would you mind introducing her?” Respond by saying, “Great, thank you for the opportunity.” And do think of it as an opportunity rather than thinking, Oh no! I better get this right. Improvisation exercises provide a great resource for this type of situational reframing. One of the tenets of improv scenes between partners is the phrase, “Yes, and ... ” This mindset guides improvisers to not only embrace the scenario offered by their partner but to expand on it, rather than to shut down the partner’s suggestion. The “Yes, and ... ” philosophy opens up myriad opportunities not just in spontaneous speaking but in life. Patricia Ryan Madson, the author of Improv Wisdom, says, “A ‘Yes and’ approach to life keeps you open to possibilities that you otherwise might have never seen, or worse yet, prevented yourself from taking advantage of.”
                      3. Leverage structure. Now that you’ve moved out of our own way and reframed your situation as an opportunity, what do you do next? Simply put: You respond. However, you don’t respond with a stream-of-consciousness rambling. Rather, you respond in a structured manner. Some call this telling a story. Structure is important because it increases the audience’s ability to process the information.According to John Medina, a biologist and the author of Brain Rules, structured information is processed approximately 40 percent more effectively and efficiently—it’s understood more easily and retained longer—than non-structured information. Many structures exist, but here are two of the most useful.
                        • Problem-solution-benefit. You start by addressing what the issue is, the problem. You then talk about a way of solving it, and then describe the benefits of following through on your plan. This structure is persuasive and effective. I used the “problem-solution-benefit” structure with this article. I started by explaining the challenge of impromptu speaking and then moved to potential ways to address the problem, and I’ll end by describing the benefits of adopting these strategies.
                        • What? So what? Now what? You start by talking about what “it” is (e.g., what you’re answering or giving feedback about), then you discuss why it is important to the recipient(s), and finally, you explain what the next steps are (i.e., how the recipient can apply the feedback or answer).I often use this structure when providing feedback to MBA students in my Strategic Communication class. For example, after a student successfully presents her case analysis, I might say, “The portion of your talk that addressed the detailed steps of the communication rollout plan (the ‘What?’) were very helpful because they clearly laid out the metrics for success (the ‘So what?’). Please leverage that type of analysis in the other aspects of your next case analysis (the ‘Now what?’).”The reality is that when you are in a spontaneous speaking situation, you have to do two things simultaneously: figure out what to say and how to say it. These structures give you a format for how to present your message. When you become comfortable with the structures, you will be able to respond more quickly to impromptu situations. The last day of my business-school class is very different than the first. We do an activity where each of my students stands up and gives an unprepared toast to something of value they are taking away from our time together. Invariably, they express their gratitude for learning how to speak in spontaneous situations ... and the best part is, they excitedly demonstrate their ability to present this way in the toasts they give! By getting out of your own way, reframing your situations as opportunities rather than threats, and leveraging structures, you can become a more compelling, confident and connected spontaneous speaker.