Fear of impromptu speaking
When I tell people that I’m a member of a Speakers Club at which we give speeches for fun, they look at me as though I’m a few fries short of a happy meal.
When I tell them that some of the speeches are impromptu, they look at me with the eyes of a man who has been to the edge… and looked over.
If public speaking makes people slightly uneasy, then impromptu speaking makes them shake like a rumba dancer in the throes of colic.
It seems that in the hierarchy of Public Speaking fears, impromptu speaking deserves top billing.
“In the speech biz, speaking at a gathering with very little preparation and without the use of notes is called impromptu speaking. In everyday life, it’s often called “hell” and a few other words we can’t print here.
But despite its terrifying reputation, impromptu speaking need not be likened to trial by fire.”
Laura Rozakis, Ph.D.
Sure, impromptu speaking can be scary but there’s a lot you can do to make things easier.
Your speech is already written
The first thing to remember is that you are not likely to be asked to give an impromptu speech unless you know about the subject, so you’re already ahead of the game.
The second thing to remember is that your speech is already written!
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a little story to show you what I mean…
A man had just given a speech… it had gone down a storm.
The crowd were on their feet, clapping, shouting, asking for more.
When the applause had died down, the speaker returned to his seat, and the man next to him leant across and said….
“That was the finest speech I’ve ever heard, tell me, how long did it take you to write it?”
And the speaker replied…
“All my life….. all my life.”
He didn’t mean he’d been scribbling this speech all his life,
He meant that your speeches are shaped by your experiences.
Who you are, what you are, what you believe in.
The process of writing your speech is really about organising your thoughts, researching facts and presenting your material in the most eloquent and persuasive way possible.
You know before you start what you want to say.
In truth, your speeches are written… long before you pick up the pen.
When you walk to the front to deliver your impromptu speech, don’t forget, you’ve been preparing for that speech… all your life.
Someone once said of Winston Churchill, “Winston has devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches.”
Although it was intended as a putdown, it’s actually a compliment, because smart speakers are always prepared – to speak.
“If you’re going to a meeting where there is the slightest chance that someone might ask you to speak, go the Boy Scout route: Be prepared.
Make some notes about the topic that might come up in the discussion.
Jot down ideas throughout the presentation or panel discussions.”
Laura Rozakis, Ph.D.
Same applies to you, if you’re going to an event and there’s any chance that you will be asked to speak, prepare a few notes.
Your speech should have a purpose and a pattern
Your speech may be off-the-cuff, but you should still stick to the rules.
Firstly, your speech must have a purpose.
I don’t think that I’ve ever given a speech whose purpose was anything other than to persuade the audience to my way of thinking.
When you speak to persuade it brings out your passion and enthusiasm. You become alive and animated.
Whatever your subject, speak to persuade.
“The common knowledge divides presentations by various purposes.
Traditionally the big three are speeches to inform, speeches to entertain and speeches to persuade.
The uncommon knowledge is that everything you say involves persuasion.”
Secondly, your speech must flow logically and be easy to follow… it must have a pattern.
Here’s a simple pattern that you can use for any speech, prepared or impromptu:
- Introduction – an attention grabbing opening and an indication of what your speech is about.
- Development – three points to explain your argument and back up your point of view.
- Conclusion – a summary of your main points, a call to action and a big finish.
As speech patterns go they don’t come easier than this one – use it when you’re under pressure and have minimum time to prepare.
Build up a stock of all purpose openings
The beginning is one of the most important parts of your speech; it’s also the time when you’re most nervous.
Make it easy on yourself – put together a list of “all purpose” openings.
Here are a couple to point you in the right direction:
If the audience know you have been asked to give an impromptu speech…
“At the very start, let me just say that we both have something in common.
You don’t know what I’m going to say… and neither do I.”
My pal used to say, “I know very little about politics / economic / world affairs / cats / dogs / Mr Blobby… and care even less.” But maybe we should care.
Quotes and one-liners are a great source of “all purpose” openings. And they’re easy to remember.
Here are a few to get you started plus an indication of the subjects where they can be used.
- They say that change is inevitable… unless it’s from a vending machine.
(time / the passage of time / changes in society)
- Everything is possible… apart from skiing through a revolving door.
(opportunities / life planning / challenges)
- I must admit, whenever I feel the desire to exercise… I lie down until it goes away.
(keep fit / diet / health / exercise / modern life)
- My old boss used to say “There are only two things you need to know about life – Where there’s money there’s corruption and where there’s men and women – there’s hanky panky.” But was he right?
(money / greed / life / life’s problems / complexity of modern life)
- Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callaghan (Dirty Harry) once said to his lieutenant “I like a man who knows his limitations.” So what are your limitations?
(setting goals / achievement / self imposed limitations)
That should get you started.
Please feel free to use them or better still, put together a list of your own.
Practise your impromptu… Join a Speakers Club
If you’re a regular visitor to easyP you’ll know that I’m a passionate advocate of Speakers Clubs. They are great places to learn all things Public Speaking related and they even have opportunities for you to practise your impromptu speaking.
The two big Speakers Club organisations are Toastmasters (internationally) and The Association of Speakers Clubs (throughout the UK).
Both offer challenges, which are specific to impromptu speaking:
- The impromptu Speech assignment – in this assignment you are given three speech titles and you have ten minutes to choose one of the titles and prepare a six to eight minute speech. The impromptu speech assignment is a bit like ballet… it keeps you on your toes.
- Topics – no preparation time at all here, you’re given a topic (a topic can be a word, a phrase, a saying, anything) and you walk to the front and deliver a two or three minute speech complete with introduction, development and conclusion.
The topics session is often called the fun part of the evening… I’ve never understood why.
Speakers Clubs, a great place to learn the art of Public Speaking, impromptu or otherwise.
What are you waiting for?
Time to have your say
What do you think?
Are you a little more relaxed about your impromptu speaking?
Do you have an impromptu speech success to share?
Please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or pass on tips of your own?
My thanks and gratitude to the following from whose books I have learnt much and quoted often:
Laura Rozakis, Ph.D. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking”
Malcolm Kushner “Public Speaking for Dummies”
Tony Carlson “The How of Wow”