“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?” – Henry Kissinger
Want a sure-fire way to speak extemporaneously without sounding like your brain and your mouth lost connection? Here it is: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Lather: While you’re waiting for your brain to kick into gear, fill the silence with build-up words rather than empty filler words like um and ah. You could say “Thank you for that question [insert name here], I always appreciate an opportunity to talk about this important issue.” This technique gives you a minimum of five seconds to formulate an answer without uttering one boring filler word. Another option is to repeat or rephrase the question before you answer.
Once you’ve identified your primary message point, deliver that message with a confident tone. Your non-verbals need to say “I know this stuff and I stand by my answer.”
If you don’t know the answer to the question or don’t want to answer it, you can invoke the age-old trick of redirecting to your preferred question. For example, last fall, when Congress was dragging their feet on whether to raise taxes right before the winter break, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tried to get White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod to talk about the split among Democrats when he asked, “Who’s right? The ‘go-home now’ Democrats or the ‘fix taxes first’ Democrats?” But Axelrod did not want to criticize his own party so he answered, “Well, the question really is ‘what about the hold-the-tax-cuts-hostage Republicans,’ which is what this debate is really about.” This redirect allowed him to emphasize his key message.
Rinse: Provide supporting and interesting details for edification. A compelling statistic, an example, a story – all these strategies work well for enhancing the attention and interest of your audience.
Repeat: Now that you’re in the groove, simply summarize your key point in a more articulate manner and then stop talking. The stopping is just as important as the starting.