As you build your public speaking prowess, people will come to take for granted how much time, effort, and preparation goes into your presentations. They’ll assume that you’re constantly ready to wow an audience at the drop of a hat, and are likely to call on you to do so.
All of a sudden, you’re the go-to person for offering public congratulations at events and parties, you’re the perfect stand-in when an official speaker is late, and you’re the obvious choice for fielding last-minute interview requests. While you might not be thrilled at the constant need to be articulate at the drop of a hat, turning down these opportunities will tarnish your personal brand as an exceptional speaker. So, you need to have a plan in place for handling these eleventh-hour addresses. Afterall, the hallmark of a great leader and speaker is being able to confidently conduct yourself in strained situations.
Impromptu speeches are traditionally part of a speech and debate event, or a classroom assignment, but they also come up in everyday life. These events are characterized by their short notice, lack of preparation time, and overall duration of less than eight minutes. While we can never be certain exactly when these opportunities will pop up, with a little foresight, it’s possible to predict situations where you may be called on to say a few words:
- Birthday/going away parties
- Meetings where you hold stake in the topic
- Press conferences
- Q&A sessions after your formal presentation
The key to succeeding in these instances is to have a plan ahead of time. That way, if you are called on, you’re already mentally prepared. If the need doesn’t arise, you’ve had some extra practice at readying yourself for anything – a skill that you can never over-do.
Here are a few tips to truly prosper at impromptu speaking:
No Excuses! Never start off your speech by pointing out how unprepared you are. When you begin by lowering your audience’s expectations, their reaction will always be tarnished by your justification.
Embrace the Pause. Many who are new to public speaking feel the need to fill every moment with noise. They fear silence, and are likely to ramble in order to fill it. But the seasoned speaker takes a different approach. He or she will leverage pauses in a presentation to gather thoughts and prepare for the next point. Just make sure you’re ending on a distinct thought, not trailing off or stopping in the middle of a sentence.
End When You’re Finished. Especially in impromptu speaking, there are no rules for how long you must speak. Once you’ve covered everything you have to say, wrap it up. Continuing can lead to rambling, which diminishes any impact your previous words may have had.
Focus on Delivery. In addition to the words you say, pay close attention to your enunciation, tone, and body language. Non-verbal cues can make a big difference in how your speech is received, regardless of what you actually say.
Use a Template. Especially for those moments where you’re caught completely off-guard, having a template to follow for unexpected speeches can help you to pull them off with aplomb.
For example, you can make sure to address the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why), or you can use the FAT method: start by sharing your Feelings on the topic, followed by a relevant Anecdote, and close by Tying the story back to the topic.
The best advice, though, is to practice all of these tips whenever you can. Many of these tactics can be applied to your daily conversations, and if you can get used to employing them on a regular basis, they’ll be second nature by the time an impromptu presentation comes around.
“By all means, take thought for tomorrow, yes, careful thought and planning and preparation. But have no anxiety.” – Dale Carnegie
To further improve your public speaking prowess, register for one of Dale Carnegie’s award-winning presentation training courses.