As originally posted on Quora.com …
If you have read any of my responses to questions here on Quora, you will know that I tend to take a different approach to most if not all others.
You ask for advice for something else besides ‘just practicing’ to develop your extemporaneous speaking skills. To develop any skill, it is a matter of learning the theory behind the skill that you want to improve, then putting the lessons learned into practise. A step that is often missed is in receiving constructive feedback on how your practicing the skill went. The final step is integrating the advice from your feedback into your next practice session.
The secret to becoming a good extemporaneous speaker may not lay in preparing and delivering formalized ‘off-the-cuff’ speeches. Formalized and off-the-cuff speeches would seem to be opposites at first glance, but not necessarily so. I’ll explain in a moment.
It is has been suggested that you spend a lot of time reading the newspaper and becoming an expert of everything that is happening in the world. I think that would take an unusual amount of time to do so. Conversely, I believe that there is value in being knowledgeable on several or many topics that is of interest to others. Being an expert on a subject that nobody really cares about is a waste of time, if your goal is to become a better extemporaneous speaker.
There is an old quote that has been attributed to several people “it is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you stupid, then it is to speak and prove the point!” I’m paraphrasing somewhat but we don’t need to be experts on every subject, just the ones we are passionate about and that somebody will likely listen to.
Now back to the idea of formalized vs off-the-cuff speaking. Formalized speaking would indicate that there has been some preparation involved in the creation and delivery of the speech. On the other hand, off-the-cuff speaking should share similar characteristics. You shouldn’t be speaking about topics that you don’t know anything about. While people often say that they will ‘wing it’ winging it often looks like a bird with one wing trying to take flight i.e. they go in circles and never get airborne.
Take for an example the late Robin Williams. He was noted as being an expert at impromptu speaking or speaking off-the-cuff during talk show interviews. But did he really speak off the cuff? No! He had prepared for an enormous amount of potential situations in a advance. When going into a rip about somebody that had a camera around their neck, he delivered it from memory. He had practiced it in advance and only changed a few details to make it relevant. He assumed that there would always be somebody in the audience that he could focus on. Almost every audience that had tourists, would likely have someone with a camera around their neck. His delivery appeared fresh and a one of. He had prepared for numerous scenarios in advance, which made him look like a master.
You can do the same thing. I would suggest preparing in advance to speak on topics that you are both passionate and experienced with. Practice with other people. Practice when driving your vehicle. Practice out loud. Practicing in your head may work for formalized speeches but not so well for extemporaneous speaking.
One final suggestion is to think about strategy. I believe that there is a difference between speaking extemporaneously and delivering an extemporaneous speech. That might be a little confusing at first. As an example, I have chaired hundreds of meetings. As the meeting Chair there are some meetings that I have to be formal and follow a prewritten script. In other meetings I speak extemporaneously i.e. conversationally. To me, that would indicate that there is value in participating in conversations or discussions with varying sizes of audiences that are not necessarily ‘speeches.’
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that joining a local Toastmasters club an be a great venue to not only practice your extemporaneous speaking skills but to be exposed to many topics that you may not have been aware of. Your fellow members will also provide you with valuable feedback that you may not get anywhere else.
Thanks for your question!
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.