Impromptu Speaking Skills
Preparing for Last-Minute Opportunities
Your boss, Amanda, is due to introduce a speaker at a conference this afternoon. But, at the last moment, she's taken ill with food poisoning and you need to take her place.
You've had almost no time to prepare, and you're worried that your nerves will get the better of you. Your reputation and credibility are now on the line, and you're not sure what to do.
Many of us have experienced situations like this in the past, but there are a number of ways that you can prepare yourself to give an effective, unplanned speech.
In this article, we'll look at why impromptu speaking skills are so important, and we'll explore how you can prepare for these last-minute opportunities.
Benefits and Opportunities
Many people feel nervous or fearful about public speaking. When you need to talk in front of people, and you've had little or no time to prepare, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.
Impromptu speaking might sound like something to avoid whenever possible, but it can open doors and lead to new, unexpected career opportunities. For example, impromptu speaking skills can give you the self-confidence you need to give a last-minute presentation, sail through a challenging job interview, or win over a difficult client.
You can build your reputation and impress leaders in your organization when you learn to speak effectively under pressure. Impromptu speaking skills can also help you deliver an elevator pitch, conduct a successful question-and-answer session, or make important connections at a networking event.
By developing impromptu speaking skills, you can learn to speak with eloquence, humor, and confidence, and you'll ensure that you can communicate your messages clearly and succinctly.
How to Build Your Impromptu Speaking Skills
Use the strategies below to develop good impromptu speaking skills.
1. Adjust Your Attitude
Impromptu speaking doesn't have to be scary – it can even be fun! Your attitude has a big impact on how well you perform, and having a positive mind-set is the foundation for success.
First, use positive thinking to try to see the situation as an opportunity to share your skills and expertise, build your reputation, and help others.
Next, take a moment to envision your success. Imagine that the speech is over: everyone is smiling and clapping. You feel great because you did a fantastic job, and you helped everyone in the room. It feels good, doesn't it?
Last, use affirmations to develop a positive, confident attitude. Consider using the following statements:
- "My audience is genuinely interested in what I have to say."
- "It's about them, not me."
- "I only have to talk to other people, it's no big deal!"
- "I will be calm and relaxed while I speak."
- "Everyone wants me to do well."
- "The audience will benefit from my expertise."
Come up with your own personal, positive, and meaningful affirmations, and repeat them to yourself before you start your speech.
You might not have a great deal of time, but use the time you do have to prepare. Think about what your audience expects you to discuss, and what your main objective needs to be.
For example, if someone invites you to speak at a meeting, think about your audience members. Why are they there? What do they need to learn about? Why were you asked to speak? What value can you provide?
If you have enough time, plan a rough outline of what you want to say using the PREP* mnemonic. PREP stands for:
- Point – make your main point clearl in your introduction.
- Reason – state why you made your main point. Include opinion, research, statistics, and any other material that adds credibility.
- Example – cite an example that supports your point.
- Point – make your point one last time. Aim to link your conclusion back to your introduction.
Make sure that you're always prepared for the possibility of an impromptu speech. Keep a pen and paper with you, so that you can take notes and draft a plan. As you speak, use the PREP method to remember the points that you want to make.
3. Slow Down
If you only have a few minutes to prepare before you speak to an audience, take several deep breaths to slow down and relax. If you're in a public setting, get up from your chair slowly, and take measured steps toward the podium. This will give you extra time to collect your thoughts.
When you stand in front of your audience, resist the urge to start speaking immediately. Instead, take deep breaths to calm down and collect your thoughts. Be conscious of your body language – stand up straight with your shoulders back, and look right at the audience.
Don't apologize for being unprepared, or for speaking at the last minute. Chances are, the audience won't even notice! Instead, repeat your affirmations to yourself, and remember – the audience wants you to do well. Speak slowly, talk directly to people, and think about how you can add value or help them. Stay focused, and try not to ramble, repeat points, or get distracted.
If you're taking part in a question-and-answer session, repeat or reword questions slowly after people ask them. This will give you extra time to think about your response, and it will show the audience that you're listening actively to what the questioner asked.
It can be useful to prepare mini-speeches, stories, and jokes in advance. Practice these in front of a mirror.
A useful practice exercise is to pick a random topic. Give yourself 30 seconds to plan your outline, then talk for two to three minutes about your topic. Breathe deeply, slow down, and engage with your audience.
4. Join Toastmasters
One of the best ways to become comfortable with public speaking is to join a group like Toastmasters International. Toastmasters focuses exclusively on helping people learn good public speaking skills.
The format is simple: you meet with other members in your community, and you give prepared and impromptu speeches. There is no instructor – instead, members provide constructive feedback on your performance. This can be a practical, fun way to gain public-speaking experience.
Look for other ways to get out of your "comfort zone," too. Offer to give a toast at a friend's wedding, attend community meetings, speak about issues that are important to you, or volunteer to introduce a speaker at the next town hall meeting. The more experience you have speaking publicly, the easier it will be when someone asks you to lead a last-minute meeting.
5. Control Your Nerves
If you're nervous before you start to speak, take several slow, deep breaths. Deep breathing slows your heart rate and calms your thoughts, and it can help you to sound more confident.
It can also be useful to put things into perspective. Will this impromptu speech matter in a month, a year, or five years? And what's the worst that can happen if you don't do a good job? In most cases, this situation won't be very important if you look at the big picture, so focus on relaxing, and enjoying the experience!
Finally, learn how to manage your emotions. It's entirely possible to control nervousness; and, in fact, a good amount of nerves can even give you the edge you need to deliver an excellent speech!
During your career, people may ask you to speak publicly with little or no time to prepare. For example, you might need to chair an important meeting, give a sales presentation, or deliver an elevator pitch.
Use these five strategies to develop your impromptu speaking skills:
- Adjust your attitude.
- Take time to prepare.
- Slow down.
- Join Toastmasters.
- Control your nerves.
* Originator unknown.