Top Tips for Impromptu Speaking

The saying goes, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” but that’s not always the case. Life has a tendency to create unexpected situations where we’re required to deliver something we can’t always prepare for. From stepping in last minute for someone to giving a toast at a party, or being asked for a business update unexpectedly, there will be times you will have to think on your feet.

Spontaneous speaking can make people stressed and uncomfortable, we all know the dreaded feeling of our mind going blank, sweaty palms and a shaky voice, meaning many avoid it at all costs. Although preparation may be preferred, you can really shine as a strong communicator by developing your impromptu speaking ability, we’ve pulled together some tips and tricks that will help you deliver a strong performance or presentation.

  1. Breathe - this sounds simple, but it’s really important. Take a deep breath before you start talking, this not only gives you a little time to think, but it also helps your body steady your nerves and feel more calm. You’ll be able to think more clearly, deliver a coherent speech and feel confident doing it.

  2. Body language - stand confidently. Plant your feet to the floor and pretend you have two shopping bags in your hands. This will stop you from fidgeting, or standing with your hands in your pockets or clasped. It’s normal to want to stand in a ‘protective stance’ when we are nervous, but opening yourself up not only connects you to your audience but also helps you feel and look more confident.

  3. Be conversational - most people, if asked by a friend or even a stranger, are able to answer a question in an informal setting; whether that’s asking for directions or how your weekend was. Use the conversational nature you’d use in everyday life and apply it to the impromptu scenario. If appropriate, tell as short story, we are often more relaxed when recalling an experience, which can help prevent rambling on about unnecessary things in a panic to try and fill the time.

  4. Connect with your audience - use eye contact rather than looking up or down as you try to think of what to say. Ask them questions and get them engaged with what you’re saying, their answers will help keep you going if you’re struggling.

  5. Try to use a structure - there are a few simple structures you can remember that will help shape and direct your impromptu speech:

  • PREP - Point, Reason, Example, Point. Make a point, give a reason or multiple reasons for it, give an example or story that supports your point and then conclude with a recap of the initial point you made.

  • Argument - Address an issue, looking at the pros and cons before concluding your final thoughts.

  • Timeline - Discuss an event, the build up to it and the aftermath of it. Consider what you learnt from it, what would you do differently if you could do it again and what challenges it created.

At our Toastmasters club, we practice impromptu speaking every meeting during Table Topics sessions, which last up to two minutes per person, which is a great way to get used to being up and talking to the audience before taking on prepared speeches. These sessions allow members to see how they react under pressure when given a random topic or question to discuss, developing their confidence and ability to think on their feet.

As well as Table Topics, we also host additional meetings throughout the year where we focus only on impromptu speaking through various workshops and activities. We have a really good laugh at these sessions, it’s a space to have fun and really just let go to see where your imagination takes you. Both are great for building confidence and skills in delivering strong unprepared speeches.

If you’d like to develop your impromptu speaking ability, come along to one of our meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at The Cairn Hotel in Harrogate. You can simply sit and enjoy watching or you can get involved, either way, it’s a great chance to see what we’re all about, meet some great people and learn how Toastmasters could help develop your communication skills.

Nuala Doyle

VP PR 2020

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