How Leaders Can Master Spontaneous Communication

Topic(s): leadership
Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: How to Shine when You’re Put on the Spot
Authors: M. Abrahams
Reviewed by: Daisy Rowser-Grier

When you are an organizational leader, you must become skilled at spontaneous conversation. For instance, a group of employees may ask you to give a speech about the company’s trajectory, and the direction of the conversation differs from what you prepared for. Understanding the mechanics of engaging with people spontaneously is essential in this situation. Recently, Harvard Business Review (Abrahams, 2023) provided advice on communicating successfully when you are put on the spot while at work.

Engage and Be Intentional

Providing a coworker with a short response is easy to do, but giving someone a piece of intentional advice is more impactful. The author advocates for leaders to offer those looking for direction with relatable and creative feedback. Recalling an event from the past and its influence on the present could be beneficial.

The Less, The Better

In conversation, have a goal and be concise to avoid oversharing. The author believes having a purpose when conversing encourages a leader to choose words wisely.

Be Real; Do Not Worry About Impressing 

Silence your inner critic and speak without trying to impress. The author recommends that leaders move away from trying to be perfect, to instead be their authentic selves. It could even help to take an improv class; the author suggests that the “dare to be dull” improv comedy maxim is a good reminder to be yourself unconditionally. In a similar vein, the author recommends asking others for constructive feedback to discover the areas of public speaking that you need to work on.

Actively Listen 

Instead of focusing so much energy on what to say, try paying more attention to listening in the moment. The author suggests three steps when listening: First, give yourself the chance to understand and comprehend the information. Second, be present and search for nonverbal cues to know how the conversation should shift. Third, understand the context and tone of the conversation.

Arrange Your Thoughts

Lastly, structure thoughts to ensure you are getting your points across. Mentally create lists of main ideas or construct a starting point posing an idea, then an ending point serving as a solution. Having a starting point and ending point in a conversation will also help put the author’s prior recommendations into practice.


Leaders are often put on the spot at work. Instead of feeling anxious and stressed about the unexpected, the author invites people to gain behavioral and people skills to master the art of unrehearsed speaking. Following the author’s key steps can help leaders speak in a more effective and sophisticated manner. While becoming a better speaker takes time, it can certainly help by starting today.


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