An impromptu speech is a speech delivered with zero preparation. It can be at an office meeting, job interview, or an event. One needs to be vigilant and mentally prepared at all times when it comes to giving an impromptu speech.
The speech could be as professional as a project update or as casual as a toast at a wedding. Either way, you are expected to say something smart, witty and charming.
Winning Strategies for Impromptu speech
Although you may only have a few seconds to prepare for any particular impromptu situation, you certainly can prepare yourself to be ready when called upon.
Here are a few strategies you can use:
Anticipate situations where one may be called upon to speak. For example, if one of your close colleagues is scheduled to speak (e.g. your boss, your peer, or your report). As you head to the event, do a few mental exercises, trying to guess what you might be asked to speak about, and how you would respond. Even if your guess isn’t accurate, it’s amazing how those prior thoughts will help you think on your feet when you are asked to speak.
Wrap your response around a simple template, or framework. If you practice this a few times, you will find that your mini-speeches are much more polished and coherent. A few easy frameworks include:
1. P.R.E.P. (Point. Reason. Example. Point)– Start off by clearly stating your point. Share the primary reason (or reasons, if you have more time). Then state where main point or reason is supported as an example (preferably in story form). Finally, conclude by summarizing your central point again. This works well in many of the situations.
2. Issue, Pros vs. Cons, Conclusions – Start off by framing the issue. Talk about the benefits, and then talk about the drawbacks. Conclude with your recommendation.
3. 5W – In this pattern, one can cover your topic by addressing the Who, What, When, Where, and Why elements. For example, if one has been asked to speak briefly about a fundraising initiative, one could talk about who started it, and who is involved now; what the goals are; when it started, and the schedule for the future; where does it take place; and why is that person involved. This template works nicely, largely because the “why?” comes last, because this is often the most critical information.
Turn session into a Q&A session. It may not be wise to launch a person into a 45 minute impromptu speech in situations, when the schedule speaker is absent. Even the most accomplished speakers are prone to meander in that situation. Instead, reframe the session as a Q&A session, which breaks it up into a series of very small impromptu speeches that are probably easier for you to answer individually. Plus, the content comes directly from the audience, so it will deliver what they are seeking.
Use personal stories. Storytelling is an essential skill for prepared speaking, but it is equally useful for impromptu speaking as well. Stories are emotional, real, and interesting. If one sticks to personal stories, one will find that it is much easier to speak (even without preparation) because the events happened to you.
Avoid the tendency to go on. Craft a coherent message, and then be quiet. Rambling on will only weaken your overall speech. If you must fill more time, shift into a Q&A.
Go easy on yourself. We all want to speak perfectly every time, but demanding perfection from ourselves in an impromptu speech is setting the bar too high. The audience (probably) recognizes and understands that one has been thrown in at the last minute.
The FAT formula for Impromptu
F = Feeling
Share your honest feelings about the topic, circumstance or person. If you feel excited to be there then, that’s the impression that you share (remember to stay close to the truth)
Share a relevant story. Most of the time, I share my first experience with the topic. For example, if it’s a car, then I share a story about my first car in college. If it’s a person, then I share my first experience meeting the person. It does not have to be that way.
T = Tie Back
After you are done with the anecdote, make sure you tie it back to the topic you are talking about. Example, if you are doing a toast for a departing coworker, and you share the story of the first time you meet her, you can tie back by saying, that after that event, you knew that she was destined for big things and that she will be missed when she leaves.
When you get asked to speak about someone or something, you can always rely on the FAT formula.
Things to Avoid
Someone who uses too many slogans and catchy statements is not certainly a good speaker. If the audience has nothing – like a word, a phrase or personal quote – to remember at the end of the speech, then the speaker has failed. Hence, it is imperative that a speaker allows the audience to return with some take away from the speech. If that happens, then the speech – irrespective of the vocabulary, idioms, and proverbs – will be successful.
Impromptu speaking is a great skill to have because it is something you learn and develop over time. Impromptu speaking is something you get good at with practice and feedback. Start practicing today!