What to say when you have nothing to say

Stage fright is like the common cold, it does not play favourites. In fact, professional speakers, me included, will let you know that nervousness is absolutely normal whenever you are thrust out of the proverbial comfort zone. 

Enter today’s conversation. How do we mitigate public speechlessness? Here are a few first-aid measures.

1.    Get ideas of what to speak about from the audience

Let the audience direct the conversation. Ask them what audience what they want to hear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, what would you like us to delve into today?”
 “I would like to begin by addressing your questions and concerns. What would you like to know on this subject?”
“Before I share my take, let me hear yours. Let’s sample some thoughts from around the in the room?”

2.    Pass the buck

Get someone else to talk on your behalf.

My favourite strategy is borrowed from a CEO who, when the ten or so members of the press suddenly posed a pertinent question this is what he did: He squared his chest, paused for effect, looked them straight in the eye and confidently pronounced, “The answer to that is so simple that even my PA here can handle it!” With that clever manoeuvre, he was off the hook! He passed the buck to someone else who was better placed to supply credible information.

“Our numbers are so accurate, that even my secretary here can share them with us”
“Before I get into that, allow me to invite … to share a little about himself”
“Actually, the best person in my company to speak on this is our project manager”

3.    Piggy back on other speakers

Do not feel pressured to come up with your own material. Borrow from the preceding talks and presentations.

“The pastor put it very well when he said, …”
“Jane captured our agenda brilliantly. As she very clearly stated…”
“I will summarise my take by reiterating, the words of our guest speaker”

4.    Ride the elephant in the room

Speak on the news, weather, the food, the banner, the person that just walked in or the person just back from leave/maternity. Speak about whatever is on everyone’s mind or everyone’s line of vision!

"It's great to get some rain this time of the year!"
“I read something in the paper this morning that am sure relates to this conversation/occasion/situation….”
“I have one comment only. Lunch was fantastic. Thank you so much for outdoing yourself today!”

5.    Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)When they go mad, go mad!

 What if someone is setting you up to fail. When the gloves go off and decorum is thrown out of the window, a more militant approach could come in handy. What do you say then?

For instance, when asked a question that is downright insensitive or uncalled for, ask one right back that the other person would rather not answer. With your nukes facing each other, there with be no firing without mutually assured destruction and hopefully the agenda will veer to something or someone else.

“Well, do really want us to get into that today, because you have not yet shared what happened last Friday”
“That issue concerns everyone in the room; can we take a poll to establish how many are happy to delve into that now?”
“Are you always this direct?”

6.    Say nothing, but say it well!
Just say “Hello all!” and “It’s really great to be here.”

“That’s all from me!”
“With that, we can call it a day”

Say it unapologetically. Say it systematically. Say it emphatically! With oomph, panache and full on eye contact. Then take your sit, with dignity … and live to speak another day!

Copyright © Caroline Nderitu, 2016