“It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech” – Mark Twain Tweet This
It is one thing to prepare for an impactful presentation and a whole other story to be able to get your point across without any preparation. It’s also ironic how the more we improve how we deliver prepared speeches, the more we get invited to speak where we have no time to prepare at all! The moment we hear we have to give an impromptu speech we likely hear these taboo words whispered by your conscience, “I should have prepared earlier!”
Fear not, it’s a blessing in disguise
As difficult as it may sound in the beginning, one needs to see impromptu speaking as a blessing in disguise. Think for a moment why you get asked to give an impromptu speech … such talks won’t be able to show your skills of delivering talks you took days or weeks to prepare, but they will be situations where you will have to speak unprepared. Impromptu speaking is more common than you think:
- When you are asked to fill in for a speaker
- You’re invited to speak a few words at your company party
- Give a toast at a friend’s engagement party
- Provide a brief presentation on your project at a meeting
- You’re interviewed for a webinar/telephone
- Or most likely, the Q&A session of your own presentation!
See anything in common? They’re all situations where people are relying and trusting you. So cherish the thought that you’re being relied on, but don’t let the pressure get you.
So how do you prepare for something that’s impromptu?
Remember these 7 tips and techniques for the next time you have to give an impromptu speech:
Think you might be giving a few words at a meeting or a family member’s party? If you’ve anticipated it, try to think of what you’d like to talk about on your way to the event. Thinking about what you’d like to bring to the table with your talk in such situations will help you decide what you want to share with the audience.
2. Don’t talk right away
You’d be surprised how many of us give in to the pressure and start our speech right away. This is because most of the times we just haven’t had the time to memorise the key points we’d like to talk about or the delivery method we’d like to use. Simon Sinek, the best-selling Author and one of the most watched TED presenters, talked in his interview with Forbes about how crucial it is not to start as soon as you’re on stage.
According to Simon, “A lot of people start talking right away, and it’s out of nerves… That communicates a little bit of insecurity and fear”.
3. Skip the Taboo
We try to tame the silence at the start of a speech by clearing our throat, adjusting stuff, or uttering the taboo sentence – “I’m not as prepared as I would like to be”.
4. Organise your point
Most techniques to help impromptu speaking will depend on the situation and context, but here are two quick and easy techniques you can use to help you calmly improvise your speech.
(a). P.R.E.P your speech when you don’t have any time to prepare
P.R.E.P (Point, Reason, Example, Point) is one of the most used and simplest templates to use for an impromptu speech. Let’s take for example you are asked to speak at your company’s 15th anniversary party. PREP will allow you to organise your speech –
Point: “I am happy our company has been running for 15 years straight, let’s celebrate”
Reason: “We’ve been able to stick with our values through the ups and downs to deliver services our clients really want and had fun while doing it”
Example: “I remember my first day at the company, when the CEO spoke to me about the company’s goal of XYZ in the coming 5 years and how he envisioned this very moment when we would be celebrating having gone beyond his dreams”
Point: “Let’s enjoy and look forward to another great year”
See how it organises what you want to say? PREP is a great way to prepare the unprepared, and allows you to focus on the point you want to get across, rather than the anxieties of unpreparedness.
b). Use Your 5 fingers and 5 W’s when you have a few minutes to prepare
5W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why) is one of the most practical and easy templates to structure an impromptu speech that we use in our workshops. Before you give your speech, think about what you want to say. With 5 W’s, you can visually attribute the points you want to say to your fingers to help you remember them. You will be more memorable, and lose some of that unpreparedness feeling you may have. Here are a couple of examples:
If it’s an engagement party –
Who is getting engaged? (“We’re here to celebrate the engagement of Ginny & Johnny“)
What their engagement means to you? (“And I couldn’t be more thrilled“)
When you heard about the engagement and marriage plans (“When I heard that they were to get married I knew they had both made the best decision of their lives“)
Where you expect their relationship to go (“And I am looking forward to being invited to their Golden Wedding Anniversary!“)
Why you are all gathered that day (“So lets raise our glasses to Ginny & Johnny to wish them every happiness today and forever.“)
If it’s a networking event and you’re asked to introduce yourself –
Who you are (“My name’s Sally from Partners With You“)
What do you do (“We use the skills of professional actors to help you deliver your message with confidence, even when you don’t feel it“)
Why should they care OR How do you do it (“so that you and your team sell more, manage better, and provide great customer service“)
Who do they know who’d be interested (“Who do you know who isn’t delivering their message with impact and their business is suffering? Because we can help them“)
Who you are (“Please pass on my details, I’m Sally from Partners With You“)
Getting used to mentally structuring your speech with 5Ws will be easy once you try it out, and it helps you to stick to the points you want to get across. For situations where you’re asked to improvise for a long time, no amount of spontaneity will help. So turn towards making the talk a discussion or Q&A session to allow yourself to feed the topics from the audience and create an impacting session.
5. Tell a personal story with a clear conflict if you can
Once you are able to mentally practice a speech with 5Ws, try to up the ante by getting you point across through a relevant/easy to remember story. It could be an experience you’ve had, an example, or a story that resonated with you on a similar topic. Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, gives a great explanation for storytelling in his tips on BusinessInsider,
“As Humans, we’re hard-wired to enjoy and learn from stories. From bedtime stories to campfires, to Broadway theaters and boardrooms – heroes, villains, conflict, plots, dialogue, and lessons learned draw us in, remind us of our own lives, and hold our attention”.
Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, feels that if there is no conflict, there’s no story. Every impromptu speech will not involve a problem, nor will you have the time to think of a relevant story to engage the audience illustrating it. But, we’ve all seen the scene of a classic dinner table speech or an awkward person giving a powerful impromptu speech in movies. The protagonist-complication-resolution (you – an issue you faced – how you solved it) story structure comes in handy if it’s on your experiences or you have previously spoken on it. By giving an example of your experience relevant to the topic and showing how the problem was overcome/dealt with, you will engage the audience and make your speech memorable.
6. Don’t fill those Pauses
Um… would it be… um… easier for you to understand… um… the speaker if he had… like… a really static voice?
We know pressure gets us, and most commonly we try to fill those pauses with irrelevant words to help us focus on thinking. Embrace pauses… The pause is a really effective way of getting someone’s attention; it punctuates the sentence, adds variety, and will show your confidence.
7. Be comfortable
Lastly, it is important that you know, that everyone present will know you are an impromptu speaker. Try to have a genuine smile (not continuously which would be scary), keep good eye contact with everyone in the audience and imagine you are talking to friends across a table rather than standing up in front of everyone. After all, its an impromptu speech!
If you’re comfortable, you can do impromptu speaking, try it out! The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
And if you think you need more help with the “Fear” of unpreparedness and public speaking, click on the image below to see an infographic created by Topmanagementdegrees.com, which nicely depicts how common the fear of public speaking is and surprisingly is ranked above Death! Knowing how common the fear is when compared to other sorts of fears I think helps. If you want more help, check out our Free Resources page to see videos and techniques on voice, storytelling, and more.