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Matt Abrahams: How to speak confidently when you’re on the spot

Matt Abrahams says spontaneous communication takes practice
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Humans are not naturally programmed to think and speak on the spot. Yet, we often have to and with sporadic success. We share expert tips from Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Matt Abrahams on how to become a more effective spontaneous communicator so you can decrease your anxiety and achieve more

When Matt Abrahams isn’t filling brilliant minds with top-notch communication and public speaking tips at Stanford, he’s hosting his podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart. We turned to Abraham’s podcast, interviews and his list of resources to pick up tips on overcoming anxiety and communicating when you’re put on the spot. You know the moments when what could come out of your mouth could have a lasting impact on your career and client relationships.

Abrahams says before we even speak a word our body language can have an impact on our anxiety levels and how we are perceived by others.

Forward movement, as in stepping toward your audience when you start an in-person presentation or leaning in slightly when in a virtual meeting, for example, can help us feel better and appear more confident. Moving back can have the opposite effect.

Here are some more tips that emerged in Abrahams’ podcast with Stanford University professors Alia Crum and Andrew Huberman who both research stress and how feelings affect our ability to communicate effectively.

  • Acknowledge your stress. Don’t try to deny or ignore it.
  • Welcome your stress as being linked with something you care about. This means seeing stress as a sign that you’re challenged or motivated by something important to you.
  • Reconnect with what you care about. This helps you to focus your energy on the things that matter most to you, and to use your stress to achieve your goals.
  • Use your stress in ways that help address the purpose or value that you’re working towards. This means channelling your stress into productive action, rather than letting it overwhelm you.
  • Think about your audience, not yourself. We really need to be other-focused. And the nice thing about being other-focused is not only is the message more likely to land, the other person is likely to feel more valued because you’re tailoring the message to them, says Abrahams.
  • Make it relevant. Connect the dots for people. “If you can make something relevant to people, it’s been shown that they process it so much more thoroughly and invest a lot of effort. We assume that if I set up everything, that you’ll connect all the dots, and that’s not always true,” says Abrahams.

Spontaneous Communication: there’s a method to it

Here are some examples of how to do this:

  • If you’re feeling stressed about a presentation at work, remind yourself why the presentation is important to you. Perhaps you want to impress your boss or share your ideas with your team. Once you’re clear on your purpose, you can use your stress to motivate you to prepare and deliver your presentation at your best.
  • If you’re feeling stressed about a difficult conversation with a friend, take some time to think about what you want to achieve from the conversation. Do you want to repair the relationship? Do you need to set some boundaries? Once you know your goal, you can use your stress to help you communicate clearly and assertively.

It’s also important to be aware of your physiological and behavioural responses to stress. Sometimes, these responses can be helpful, such as when they motivate you to take action. However, other times, these responses can be unhelpful, such as when they lead you to lash out at others or withdraw from communication.

If you find that your stress is causing you to behave in ways that are not serving your purpose, try to find healthy ways to cope with your stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or talking to a therapist.

By following these steps, you can learn to use stress to your advantage and to achieve your goals in a more effective and fulfilling way.

Abrahams has recently published a new book, Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot.

To get an initial understanding of what an Anxiety Management Plan (AMP) is, watch Abraham’s video where he explains why we should take a two-pronged approach to minimising anxiety in communicating with others and what his personal AMP is and why.


To learn more tips on speaking spontaneously with more confidence and calm watch the video below and look at Abraham’s other sources here.

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