When Patricia Fripp speaks, consultants listen.

Fripp is a past president, and the first female president, of the over 3,600-member National Speakers Association. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance wrote that the 6th best investment in your career is to learn presentation skills from Patricia Fripp.

Fripp reminds her executive clients that in business, you are always in the spotlight.

“Outside your home, all speaking is public speaking,” says Fripp. “There is no such thing as private speaking.”

Fripp, the sister of English rock guitar legend Robert Fripp, is a rock star in the world of speaking and sales presentations.

What is Fripp’s advice on impromptu meetings and on-the-spot interaction? Here are three lessons from a legend:

  1. Focus on others. “In business and life as a basic rule most people, even VIPS, are more interested in themselves than you,” says Fripp. Know what is going on in your company so you can congratulate people on their achievements or refer to a previous conversation. For example, “How was last week’s presentation to the Board of Directors received?” Your sincere interest in people will make a lasting impression.
  2. Ask questions to start a conversation. “A bright but introverted friend of mine has a gregarious wife who often drags him to parties where he doesn’t know anyone,” relates Fripp. “He used to sit in a corner with a drink in his hand, inspecting the carpet, and was perfectly happy doing so! Then we discussed ‘the key to conversation is to ask questions’ technique. At the next gathering, he asked one of their hosts about her work. ‘I’m an emergency room nurse,’ she said. ‘What is your average day like?’ he responded. The host talked for an hour. As the couple prepared to leave, she told my friend’s astonished wife, ‘Your husband is the most scintillating conversationalist I’ve ever met.’ Moral: When you make people feel important, letting them talk about themselves and sharing what they know, you earn a reputation as a brilliant conversationalist, even if you’ve hardly said a word.”
  3. Overcome shyness. “When you find yourself in an elevator with a VIP, forget feeling comfortable,” says Fripp. Her advice is to be cordial, smile, breathe deeply, and take the initiative. Say, “Good morning Mr./Ms. Big Shot. We met briefly at the company January sales meeting. I am Patricia Fripp, and I have the privilege to be a new manager in your communications department.” Then congratulation them on a recent success – a speech, published article, award, or contract. “Your comments on community involvement inspired us to take action.” Then mention very briefly an achievement in your department: “Did you hear how we saved the company a quarter of a million dollars?” You’ve got seconds to connect, so don’t try to pin Big Shot down. Perhaps Big Shot will stop to continue the chat when you reach your floor, but more likely you’ve planted the seeds for future conversation.

Bottom line: “Many people are less intimidated when they prepare for a speech than when they must communicate off the cuff in a more informal setting,” says Fripp. “However, we have more frequent, unplanned conversations on the elevator, or at the water cooler, and when planned for, can do as much to boost your career as giving a formal presentation.”