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Coach | Public Speaking

September 2013

Start preparing now for impromptu speeches

By Dr. Greg Story

That often dreaded time may come when we are suddenly asked to speak without any warning. We could be pointedly asked by the senior management for our opinion at a meeting. Now every eyeball in the room is burning into us, everyone staring expectantly in our direction. Uh oh!

We may be sitting comfortably with a drink in our hand and chatting with a neighbor, when we are told one of the guests was just called away. Could we please move to the microphone right now, save the day and deliver an address at the function?

Your mind goes blank, your stomach churns, your palms start sweating, your legs feel heavy—none of this is fun!

Impromptu speeches for most of us are infinitely harder to make than prepared oral presentations. We panic if we lack time to prepare and are suddenly forced to think on our feet.

If we wish to avoid embarrassing ourselves, we should prepare for these situations now. They will happen!

People probably won’t remember what you spoke about, but they will remember you one way or another! Here are some ideas on how we can make that memory a positive one.

1. Condition yourself mentally to speak impromptu on all occasions

If you’re in a meeting, keep asking yourself what you would say if you were called upon at that specific moment. Have some possible (and pertinent) questions ready. There are also simple techniques or frames we can deploy, when we want to make a salient point.

An easy one is time: past, present, future. For example, this is where we used to be, this is where we are now, and this is where we need to go. Also, applying a macro/micro focus can help. For example, talk about the overall direction—the big picture—and then go into more specific details.

2. Give an example immediately

There are three reasons this works like a charm.

1) You will free yourself at once of the need to think hard about your next sentence, because your own experiences are easily recounted even in impromptu situations. Since only you know what happened, the audience can’t easily challenge what you say. This increases your confidence.

2) You will gain the audience’s attention straight away.

3) You will give yourself a chance to warm up to the subject.

In your impromptu example, try to draw in people, places, and situations that will be known to the audience. Have lots of color and action!

This approach allows us to invite people into our story very quickly and easily. We have all grown up listening to bedtime stories, so storytelling itself is a long established and effective communication tool.

3. Speak with animation and force

I hope this is not news to you, but your body and mind are interconnected! If you speak with energy, your external animation will then have a beneficial effect on your internal “speaking” thought processes.

It also projects enthusiasm to the listeners, which makes your speech a lot more interesting. We all know that enthusiasm is catching!

4. Don’t talk impromptu; give an impromptu talk

It is not enough just to ramble on and string together a number of unconnected events or points. You must keep your ideas logically grouped around a central thought, which is the key point that you’re trying to get across.

Your examples should support the central idea. And it’s best not to have too many points in a short speech; keep it simple.

It is a sad comment on humanity and our lack of progress as a species, but these very straightforward elements will help to make you a public speaking giant among the assembled crowd! This is because just about everyone dreads being suddenly put on the spot to speak.

All of those sitting around you are mentally relieved it isn’t them who has to get up and speak without warning.

Alternatively, those who can handle impromptu speaking situations smoothly and competently will always impress and be remembered.

So start today—decide to apply these ideas and impress! •

Coach | Public Speaking - Dr Greg Story

Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.

You must keep your ideas logically grouped around a central thought, which is the key point that you’re trying to get across.”