Firstly, you need to develop your all-round public speaking skills so that when the opportunity arises, you have the ability and the self-confidence to deliver an impromptu speech. Secondly, you need to say something that is worth your audience’s time to listen to.
Let me clarify impromptu speaking scenarios for anyone reading this response. Here are some examples of impromptu speaking opportunities:
· The scheduled speaker is unavailable
· You are sitting on a panel answering questions from the audience
· You are fielding questions after your own talk
· You are being interviewed on television, radio, webinar, or telephone
· You are invited (at the last moment) to say a few words at a company gathering
· You are asked to provide a brief status report for your project at a department meeting
· You are motivated to join the debate at the parent association meeting for your child’s school
· You decide to give an unplanned toast at an event with family or friends
The gist of impromptu speaking is that you haven’t had the same amount of preparation time as you would for a formalized, prepared speech. At times, it may be a matter of mere minutes.
So assuming that you have the public speaking skills to deliver an impromptu speech, how do we go about crafting one?
Probably, the first task you need to do is ask yourself “Do I know anything about the subject that I am being asked to speak about?” There is an old saying that goes “better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you stupid, then to open it and prove that you are!”
In most cases you are not obligated to speak other than before a judge in a court of a law or perhaps a grand jury. If you do know something about the subject you are asked to speak about, start writing down your ideas on paper. This is a brainstorming technique. The idea here is to generate enough ideas to give you something to work with. Then you would analyze your points to see if there are any natural connections between the points. Themes will likely develop as you drill down. Depending on the amount of time that you have for your impromptu speaking opportunity, you may only have time to expand upon one or two of the themes that developed from brainstorming. The next step would be to add personal examples, stories, quotations and facts to add substance to your presentation.
This all presupposes that you have at least a few minutes to organize your thoughts before delivering your speech. Often you don’t! The same process applies when you don’t have the advance preparation time, except you have to do it in your head. This can be challenging.
Once you have taken stock on what you actually know about the question at hand the next step is to decide on an organizational method i.e. how you will organize your thoughts for delivery.
Here are some organizational strategies to consider. The idea is to practice them in advance of actually needing them, so when the time comes to speak with short notice, you have a variety of tools to choose from.
1. Compare and Contrast Extremes: (Examples Pros vs Cons/ Negative vs Positive) Quickly look at any situation from both sides. Create an argument for both sides. This can naturally lead to helping your audience make a decision and increasing your credibility as a ‘thought leader.’ A conclusion to this strategy is leaving your audience with your recommendations on what choice to make. “Go Ahead Now” versus “Think About It”; “Our side” versus “Their side.” Here’s a question for you to practice: Question: Which are better, cats or dogs as guard animals?
2. PREP: Point, Reason, Example, Point. This strategy may be self-explanatory. It is likely the backbone of any speech that you might deliver. The example section is where your personal stories or anecdotes come in handy.
3. Chronological/Historical (Past, Present & Future) This is a strategy that can quickly be used to deliver an impromptu presentation of most types. “In the past … this was how things were done… currently … here is how we are doing it … but in thefuture I envision …” This strategy helps build your credibility with your audience.
4. Categorical: Oranges, Apples, Bananas, Pineapples; or Triangles, Circles, Squares, Rectangles; or Customers, Managers, Employees, Sales People.
5. Hierarchical: Top, Middle, Bottom
6. Review Options: Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, Recommendation
7. Expanding Radius: Individual, Neighborhood, Community
Here are some more thoughts on impromptu speaking from Sean K. Michael of Velocity Videos that are worthwhile sharing.
Three Key Ideas:
“I’m content, no matter what!”
“I can’t fail!”
Tip One: Less is more.
Tip Two: Start with a question.
Tip Three: Make it personal.
Here are even more impromptu peaking tips & techniques:
· Anticipate situations where you may be called upon to speak.
· Wrap your response around a simple template, or framework.
· Turn your impromptu session into a Q&A session.
· Avoid the tendency to go on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on …
So I won’t … much longer. I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend joining your local Toastmasters club to practice and hone your public speaking skills as well as your ability to speak ‘off the cuff.’ After 22 years as a Toastmaster member I have learned that having no knowledge of a subject shouldn’t prevent me from being an expert on the subject. Hmmm…. perhaps I shouldn’t state that publicly 🙂
For further discussion on public speaking, speech development, communication skills and Toastmasters, visit the Live For Excellence Book Store for the following publications:
Blow Your Own Horn!: Personal Branding for Business Professionals
Power Networking For Shy People: How to Network Like a Pro
The Power of Persuasion: Mastering the Art of Influence
The Power of Promotion: Online Marketing For Toastmasters Club Growth
The Savvy Emcee: How to be a Dynamic Master of Ceremonies
Working With Words: Adding Life to Your Oral Presentations
Rae A. Stonehouse is an author, speaker, and self-publishing consultant dedicated to helping others embrace constant improvement and overcome challenges. With over 40 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in psychiatry and mental health, Rae brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for self-development to his writing and presentations.
As a 25+ year member of Toastmasters International, Rae has systematically built his communication abilities and self-confidence to share his insights as an author and speaker. His self-help books and personal development presentations aim to have conversational one-on-one connections with readers and audiences.
Rae is known for his wry sense of humor and sage advice delivered in a relatable coaching style. After four decades as a nurse, Rae has rewired rather than retired, actively writing and pursuing public speaking. He strives to share lessons learned to help others achieve personal and professional growth.