How to Ace an Impromptu Speech
An ‘impromptu speech’ is a little different from the traditional speech or presentation I have been writing about in recent posts. It’s a speech that you have to make when you haven’t been given notice time to allow you to prepare.
The goal of an impromptu speech is not, nor should it be, to guide you into making a stirring, memorable speech that will have the audience jumping out of their seats. Because an impromptu speech is unexpected, your more reasonable goal — and the one I’ve aimed to accomplish with this post — is to get the speech delivered in a simple, logical way. Any subsequent accolades are an added bonus.
Let’s consider just a few situations where you might find yourself speaking off the cuff:
- You are asked to ‘fill in’ as the scheduled speaker is unavailable (or late)
- You are sitting on a panel answering questions from the audience
- You are fielding questions after your own talk (yes, the Q&A session is impromptu)
- You are asked to provide a brief status report for your project at a work meeting
- You are asked to give an unplanned toast at a wedding or birthday celebration
How to Ace an Impromptu Speech
A good impromptu speech is one that sounds well organised and detailed and that could have been prepared days in advance. The tricky part of preparing an impromptu speech is effectively structuring your time to quickly come up with content when put on the spot. Although you may only have a few seconds to prepare for any particular impromptu situation, you can certainly prepare yourself to be ready. Here are five strategies you can use.
1) Narrow the Lens
The first step when delivering an impromptu speech is to narrow your focus to a specific topic. Narrowing the focus on a given subject matter serves two purposes:
- It provides a more concrete structure to the speech so that you’re not tying yourself up in knots around different associations to the topic
- It ensures that time spent generating supporting arguments is used efficiently (this is important since it’s likely preparation time will be extremely limited)
2) Brainstorm the Idea
The next step is to brainstorm three main points that support your topic. In a brief moment plan to crystallise three focused messages for your speech, and if possible, leave the audience with one new related point to think about.
3) Structure the Content
There are an array of speaking frameworks you can use to structure the content of an impromptu speech. Your next task is to arrange the three main points into a structure using which ever of the options below that best suits your topic.
A few simple speaking frameworks to consider:
- P.R.E.P. (Point. Reasons. Example. Point) – start off by clearly stating your point. Share the reasons. Then, share an example where your main point is supported. Finally, conclude by summarising your central point again
- 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
- 5W – in this framework, you cover your topic by addressing the Who, What, When, Where, and Why elements. The “why?” generally comes last because this is often the most critical information
- Past, Present, Future – in the past the answer to the problem we face was… As of now, we have XXXXX answers to the problem… In the future we predict we will have XXXXX answers to the problem…
4) Open Strong
Having planned the body of your speech, let’s focus on the opening and conclusion. You should take your lead from the impromptu speaking framework you’ve chosen in step 3. If, for example, you’ve chosen Past, Present, Future you might open with a comment based on time.
Regardless of the template, open by sharing a brief personal experience. This provides you with a theme, and it’s one you know well and understand completely. It keeps your subject matter within your grasp so that the foundation of your speech is built on something close to you.
Very few people can discuss, on the fly, subjects they know nothing about. By sticking to personal stories, you’ll find that it is much easier to speak (even without preparation).
5) Close Even Stronger
Most audiences have very short attention spans. The way we conclude is so important, because often times it is the only part of the speech that is remembered. Take advantage of this predictable aspect of public speaking and end strong. Enlist the help of a profound and fitting quote, an insightful observation, or a summation of your main point. In the event you completely draw a blank, at least pull a cliché out of the hat in order to communicate some closure to your speech.
However you choose to finish, don’t end with an apology! No matter how unprepared your speech may be, you have nothing to be sorry about, you’ve made it through the impromptu speech.
Over To You
By narrowing the lens, brainstorming the idea, structuring the content and opening and closing strong, you too can deliver an effective and impactful impromptu speech.
The other part important part of a great speech is clear delivery, and that comes with practice. If you practice the above approach a couple of times, you will find that your impromptu speeches are much more coherent each time. So get started today!