But today, people at all levels are sending important messages to colleagues and clients, from sales visits to chats with a co-worker walking in from the parking lot, so she tackles that in her latest book, Impromptu. "You need an ability to organize your thoughts in the moment. Often people, when they start speaking, don't know what they want to say.
That's why you hear a lot of 'ahhs' or 'What I meant to say was ...'" she says in an interview.
It starts with knowing your stuff, from subject and product information to general information, to experiential knowledge. In her book, she mentions the viral video of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explaining quantum computing when he visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., last year.
Subject knowledge carried that day for him. In the interview, she notes how Robert Kennedy's love of poetry allowed him to quote the Greek poet Aeschylus in his moving tribute after Martin Luther King's assassination. You also should be able to draw from your experiences, such as comments various clients have made about your product.
To say it well, you need to get to the point quickly," Ms. Humphrey says. Too often we struggle, taking a number of sentences to find our point. She says in some contexts, such as talking to a client, you should know the message already. If not, sometimes you can delay speaking, while others talk and you figure out your crystallized comment.
If asked a question and you find yourself struggling for the nugget answer, she suggests responding with a grabber and then pausing until you can clarify the exact message. "The pause seems long to the speaker but not the audience.
A pause can make you look thoughtful," Ms. Humphrey says. And on balance, be positive. If the situation you are addressing is negative, slide into the positive aspect: What can be done to improve.
I had one binder and never had a textbook, I always borrowed a pen. I played basketball all through high school, so I was more of a gym rat than a student. But I was an artist. I did a lot of drawing, always had a good eye for detail.
I met an experienced guy in the trade-show industry and we came up with this idea that we would serve the Silicon Valley companies exhibiting in Asia, because it was a real struggle to do that at the time. We had two separate companies, but we'd work together and help each other.
The challenge is being able to adapt as the business scales, and being able to step outside designing and building experiences to realize that in order to scale, the business needs proper systems and infrastructure. It needs the right people in all these different positions, and those people need to evolve and change.