How to Ace the Impromptu Speech


 

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Several readers sent in questions related to impromptu speeches, including Matthias K.:

I’m pretty comfortable when I have days or even weeks to prepare a speech, but I REALLY struggle when I’m asked to speak at a moment’s notice. Do you have any tips for impromptu speaking?

In this article, you’ll find a set of tips that will make you shine the next time you are asked to speak on the spur of the moment.

Impromptu Speech Scenarios

Impromptu speaking may not be as glamorous as prepared speaking, but it is an equally vital skill simply because there are so many scenarios where you find yourself speaking without more than a few moments of preparation. It’s no surprise that “impromptu speaking sessions” are found within Toastmasters meetings, college communications courses, and public speaking seminars.

Consider just a few situations where you find yourself speaking off the cuff:

  • The scheduled speaker is unavailable (or late), and you’ve been asked to fill in.
  • You are sitting on a panel answering questions from the audience.
  • You are fielding questions after your own talk (yes, your Q&A session is impromptu speaking)
  • 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.

It’s also worth noting the irony that the better you are at giving prepared speeches, the more often you will be invited to speak with no time for preparation at all. Your friends and colleagues will recognize your speaking skill, and when they need “someone” to say a few words… you’ll be that someone!

Winning Strategies for Impromptu Speeches

Although you may only have a few seconds to prepare for any particular impromptu situation, you certainly can prepare yourself to be ready when called upon.

Here are a few strategies you can use:

Anticipate situations where you may be called upon to speak. For example, if you are attending an engagement party for a close friend or family member, there’s a reasonable chance that you might be asked to speak. Similarly, if one of your close colleagues is scheduled to speak (e.g. your boss, your peer, or your report), it’s also reasonable to assume that you will find yourself speaking. As you head to the event, do a few mental exercises, trying to guess what you might be asked to speak about, and how you would respond. Even if your guess isn’t accurate, it’s amazing how those prior thoughts will help you think on your feet when you are asked to speak.

Wrap your response around a simple template, or framework. If you practice this a few times, you will find that your mini-speeches are much more polished and coherent. A few easy frameworks include:

  1. P.R.E.P. (Point. Reason. Example. Point) – Start off by clearly stating your point. Share the primary reason (or reasons, if you have more time). Then, share an example (preferably in story form) where your main point or reason is supported. Finally, conclude by summarizing your central point again. The template works well in many situations, and is easily adapted.
  2. Issue, Pros vs. Cons, Conclusions - Start off by framing the issue. Talk about the benefits, and then talk about the drawbacks. Conclude with your recommendation.
  3. 5W – In this pattern, you cover your topic by addressing the Who, What, When, Where, and Why elements. For example, if you’ve been asked to speak briefly about a fundraising initiative, you could talk about [1] who started it, and who is involved now; [2] what the goals are; [3] when it started, and the schedule for the future; [4] where does it take place; and [5] why are you involved. This template works nicely, largely because the “why?” comes last, because this is often the most critical information.
Want to learn more?
Dazzle your audience by leading the perfect Q&A session.

Turn your impromptu session into a Q&A session. In situations where you are asked to fill in when the schedule speaker is absent, it may not be wise to launch into a 45 minute impromptu speech. Even the most accomplished speakers are prone to meander in that situation. Instead, reframe the session as a Q&A session, which breaks it up into a series of very small impromptu speeches that are probably easier for you to answer individually. Plus, the content comes directly from the audience, so you are guaranteed to deliver what they are seeking.

Use personal stories. Storytelling is an essential skill for prepared speaking, but it is equally useful for impromptu speaking as well. Stories are emotional, real, and interesting. If you stick to personal stories, you’ll find that it is much easier to speak (even without preparation) because the events happened to you.

Avoid the tendency to go on, and on, and on. Craft a coherent message, and then be quiet. Rambling on will only weaken your overall speech. If you must fill more time, shift into a Q&A.

Go easy on yourself. We all want to speak perfectly every time, but demanding perfection from yourself in an impromptu speech is setting the bar too high. The audience (probably) recognizes that you’ve been thrown in at the last minute, and they will understand.

Your Turn: What’s Your Opinion?

Do you have any proven strategies for mastering the impromptu speech?

Please share in the comments.

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Comments icon12 Comments

  1. Great ideas – and I like the simple structures PREP, I-P&C-C, 5W – quick tools to put structure into your talk 2 minutes before standing up.

    The real challenge is closing an impromptu speech – so often the lack of preparation of a good opening leaves it difficult to do a great closing – and you end up with a tepid “well… that’s it… thanks”

  2. Always try to be prepared for the “Impromptu Speech.”

    A Police Chief once told me he takes it as a given that when attending Chamber and other events, the emcee will usually say, “And let’s hear a few words from our city’s Top Cop. Come on up here, Chief!”

    I like your idea, Andrew, of the Q&A Session. If you don’t know the answer, or just want to involve more people, the answer to the question can be thrown back to the audience.

    Thanks for the Post!

  3. Pratap says:

    I have always been an impromptu speaker. I loose my confidence when I prepare my speech. Which I do well, but at times, I miss out on important issues and also I can’t time my speech

  4. Michael says:

    At one point in my career, I was constantly confronted with impromptu speaking situations–the speech literally being planned between chair and podium.

    The challenge was how to make the speech coherent and focused with no time to labor over an outline.

    One speaker suggested simply picking an object on the way…and using the elements of that object as points for the speech. We might use an object that has an obvious connection with the topic, say a “ball point pen” used for points on communication, but that is not necessary, a shoe or a flower arrangement could be used as well.

    So, it begins, “this common shoe tells us everything we need to know about time management…..”
    –first, like a good shoe, it has to fit you and your distinctive personality…
    –second, like the sole, it must both protect you from the dynamics of the outside world, and give you traction…
    –Finally, like the shoe in its totality, you must use it or it cannot fulfill its function no matter how well designed…

    This actually works so well, I have used it to create outlines for writing and prepared speeches…a structured brain storming.

    God bless and Merry Christmas

  5. hi thanks so much for addressing an issue I had requested for too, only not so articulately.

  6. If it is impromptu it is a not really a speech. It is more you giving your off the cuff thoughts about something. By the very nature of being unprepared you can be prepared for them. But you can learn to be good communicator and share your well organized thoughts about something *whenever* you are asked.

    An “impromptu speech” is no different than a coworker or a spouse asking you your opinion about something.

  7. The ‘template’ advice is spot on Andrew. A well structured speech will always sound professional. To what you’ve said here I’d add that when time to prepare is short, make best use of it by working out the opening (an arresting attention getter) and the close (something they’ll always remember). Somehow you’ll be able to speak your way from one to the other!

    1. Dan says:

      excellent suggestion! Will give it a go :)

  8. I always enjoy your write ups. Impromptu speaking is the monster in many people’s nightmares. . . Your suggestions are very valid.

  9. Matt T says:

    Nice! I remember my speech teacher getting me to use the 5W’s when doing impromptu speeches years ago. I’ve never been as strong with impromptu side of things in comparison to prepared speeches, so thanks for sharing your excellent strategies! Will use.

  10. Darwin Miranda says:

    I really have a hard time getting my confidence. I thank you for sharing this knowledge and may help any body who wants to be a good public speaker.
    May God Bless You!

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    page and be updated with the newest information posted here.

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