“Perhaps you’d say a few words.”
What? Who? Me?!
“Er, um, well, er, gosh, um …”
Have you ever been in that situation? There you are, sitting quietly, minding your own business and suddenly everyone’s looking at you.
This is Impromptu Speaking!
Welcome to the world of impromptu speaking,
Unless you are a natural at engaging brain, summoning up the appropriate words and delivering them confidently, and who is, it’s going to be a challenge isn’t it?
Impromptu speaking, speaking off the cuff, or whatever you want to call it, is when you have little or no time to plan and prepare for speaking.
This could be when you are asked to give your views or explain something in a meeting.
Or you find you have to give a speech with little time to prepare.
Let’s take a look.
When Impromptu Speaking Means Right Now!
That’s not in ten minutes time. It’s now.
OK, don’t panic. Don’t rush to speak. Give yourself thinking time.
Look around, smile, breathe, offer thanks for the opportunity to speak, anything that gives you a second or two to engage brain.
‘Hmm, that’s a good question’ or something similar may also be an appropriate way to buy thinking time.
That couple of seconds of silence will feel like an eternity to you.
But to those waiting to hear what you have to say, it will be barely noticeable and seem entirely natural.
Is there a framework you can use? If it’s a product, could you look at its past history, its current performance and future possibilities?
With care, you might even be able to apply the past, present and future approach to a work colleague or friend you’ve been asked to speak about.
What are the highlights (that you can mention!) of the time you’ve known them? You can probably get the audience to laugh with this approach, of course, being careful not to offend the subject of your speech.
Maybe instead of our earlier ‘that’s a good question’ you could say ‘that’s a tricky question; let’s look at the pros and cons’.
By looking at a subject from different perspectives it gives you time to work out what you really think about it before offering a firm opinion.
When nervous, people often speak quickly, probably hoping to finish as soon as possible. The trouble is that this makes it harder to think about what you’re going to say.
So when it’s your turn, take your time. Speak slowly to give yourself time to think. And to breathe.
Planned Impromptu Speaking
Sometimes you get a few minutes to think about what to say.
You are at an event where a colleague will be giving a speech or delivering a presentation.
But they haven’t arrived yet. Time ticks by. They’re cutting this a bit fine. The event starts in ten minutes.
And then your phone rings. You look at the screen. It’s your colleague. You start to feel uneasy. Your heart rate rises.
Your worst fears are confirmed. Their car has broken down – the engine has overheated – and they aren’t going to make it. Would you fill in for them?
“You know the subject, you’ll be fine” they say. “Sorry, must go, the AA man has arrived.”
Never mind their car, you are now overheating and starting to sweat. What to do? You want to run out of the room but you know you can’t, you mustn’t.
OK, let’s think.
You get out a notebook. Your colleague is right, you do know a fair bit about the subject. You’re not the expert that they are but you probably know more than most in the audience.
You quickly jot down everything that you can think about that relates to the subject. That’s good: ideas start to come into your head.
How to sort these notes and thoughts into a speech? Let’s start by grouping thoughts into categories.
Underline words that are related. Circle round items in another category. Square box a third group.
You’re left with half-a-dozen thoughts that don’t fit in any of the three groups. Can they be squeezed in?
Are they key components? No, not really. Then bin them and focus on what’s important.
Time is running out. But you’ve got a couple of minutes left. Oops, nearly forgot, must tell the host about the change of plan.
The meeting starts. You’ll be on in a few minutes but there’s just time to reorganise your notes.
You write down your three main headings and then group related elements under them.
In your head you go through the presentation.
You will briefly explain the subject and the three aspects that you’ll discuss.
You then run through each in your mind. And you remind yourself to sum up the important points at the end.
Your heart rate is still raised but you feel more in control now. Perhaps not exactly relaxed, but reasonably confident you won’t make a complete mess.
Time For An Impromptu Speech
You hear your name. You are being introduced. Remember to walk confidently to the front.
Take your time, don’t rush. B r e a t h e.
You turn, thank the host for the introduction and greet the audience with a smile.
Your speech is going well. You glance at your notes occasionally to stay on track. But you are pleasantly surprised by how in control you feel.
It’s amazing how that short, focussed preparation time has imprinted your planned words in your mind.
You’ve dealt with all your key points without too much waffling or umming and erring. Now it’s time to sum up the main elements of your presentation.
Then you realise you’ve missed an important point. Oh dear, how do you back-track?
You summarise as planned and then, “There’s one last point I’d like to make. I’m sure some of you have been wondering about xyz. Well, the answer is abc.”
And you have finished. You’ve succeeded. And the audience are applauding. Wow!
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