What’s more challenging than giving a prepared speech?
Giving an unprepared one!
Somewhere along the line, we have had our share of the highs and lows of that infamous experience called, Impromptu Speaking.
There’s that strange ineffable fear settling in the pit of your stomach, like the fear when looking down a high-dive…. Your heart rate picks up. You are not hot yet sweating. Yes, you have been called on. After one clammy handshake to your presenter, you are expected to formulate a speech that’s at least a minute long. Time takes on an elastic quality. Even a minute seems like an hour. Meanwhile, internally you are frantically endeavoring to come up with something engaging, and meaningful; spontaneous and entertaining! Plus, there is the added anxiety of wanting approval from the audience. You don’t want to make a fool of yourself once you get up there, right? If this sounds familiar to you… you have entered the Impromptu Speaking Zone!
With that said, the bottom line is, we need the practice. We all do. Everyday living situations require us to think on our feet, accurately and with assurance. When we are called upon to use impromptu language skills, we can see this as practice for “real life.” When we re-frame our position in this fashion, we have a whole new ball game going.
The work arena involves countless opportunities for impromptu speaking. Job interviews are notorious for featuring questions to leave the most glib-tongued tongue-tied. Then, once hired at the job, (since you did so well on the interview) speaking skills are necessary to become familiar with the job, getting along with others, making new friends and acquaintances. Finding out where the best coffee houses are. Important information!
Outside of the office there are plenty of opportunities for speaking off-the-cuff: Exchanging Xmas gifts at Macy’s; encountering a room full of strangers at an open house or the wedding reception; meeting for coffee on a blind date. Each of us could add to the list ad infinitum.
We cannot anticipate when these situations will arise – nor how we will answer them. However, with a few simple tools, we can be prepared and confident to speak to those challenges of Impromptu Speaking.
The difference between hearing and listening is: Hearing is a physiological experience. Listening is an art. We are how to listen. Many people come to Toastmasters to learn how to speak. The flip side of the same coin is they learn how to actively listen. Most folks do not know how to listen. They weren’t taught. They’re so busy formulating answers that they never hear the question and thus miss out on a fine opportunity to have answers that are more compassionate, effective and to the point if they had but slowed down and listened. Effective communication hinges on effective listening. “Listen exquisitely.”
The most time-honored saints and sages have promoted the advantages of pausing. Taking a few moments to pause before speaking will allow you time to refresh your thoughts and formulate an answer.
One of my favorite mentors is Lee Glickstein. From his Speaking Circles you learn to take in your audience once on stage. Make friends with your audience. Smile! What we often forget is the audience truly wants us to do well. Take that in and discover how a contemplative pause allows you time to organize your thoughts and get centered within yourself. Breathe.
A pause is preferable to verbal placeholders such as “uh,” “you know,” and “um.” Even as we were told to “look before you leap,” the wise have also known to “pause before you speak.” Or to paraphrase Twain’s old adage, “God gave us two ears that we might be better listeners and one mouth that we might get into half the trouble.”
Just as pausing will give you extra time to organize your thoughts, confirming the question will give you time to prepare your response. Repeating the question aloud gives you the opportunity to absorb the concept. Once you have a clearer idea of how to respond, go ahead and
Now you have everyone’s attention, DAZZLE them with your reply! As you express your thoughts and opinions – stay focused. At this point your challenge is to tell only the essentials. Not more than one or two points. You can always SOUND as though you knew a lot more than you were telling. Many speakers find themselves so revved up at this point, they are ready to discuss their topic from A to Z. That’s why it is so important to go to this fifth and final step, which is….
Stop talking! Has someone who would not quit talking ever held you hostage?
Once you have said what you have to say – do not belabor the point. Bring your comments to a close. Emphasize your main point. Smile while making your final eye contact. Then sit down. We know when a musician has finished by the simple act of laying down his instrument or pushing himself away from the keyboard. You can do the same.
The simplest way to end is to step away from the lectern, smile at your audience and welcome your emcee back to the stage. Never leave the area untenanted. Always wait for the applause. You earned it! Always wait for the handshake that punctuates the conclusion of your impromptu speech.
Be familiar with several speaking strategies to carry you through the “tell” portion of your talk.
While we may not have prepared material ready, we can approach the topics as follows:
This is the simplest strategy because it comes from you and is your opinion. You have a definite feeling one way or another so go ahead and clearly state your opinion. Give a reason or two to support your opinion. Give us your experience on the matter. Clearly state your opinion again. Then sit down.
What happened and what it’s like now. State the situation – how if the situation continues, this will be the result. Clearly state the results. Examples are: 1) There’s a high rate of lung cancer caused by first and second-hand smoke. The eventual consequences of this behavior are long-term hospitalization or death. 2) If we go on mismanaging our water, we will eventually run dry when the next drought occurs.
You can break the topic into components and discuss them individually. An example here is: Three areas of concern for me when I graduated college were: finding a job, making money and locating a new place to live.
If your topic involves assessing a situation over a span of time such as your experience with your mother, you can use a timeline to organize your past, present and future experience with this individual. “When I was a little girl, I thought my mom was a goddess incarnate; as a teenager I thought she was a royal pain in the neck; as an adult, I see her as a total woman and I love her unconditionally.”
Ask a question, out loud, that pertains to what you want to talk about. Here's an example:
Let's say the topic is chess. You know quite a lot about chess. But how can you break down what you know to a few minutes?
Ask aloud your topic in the form of a question: "What could I tell you about chess that would be informative and compelling?"
Answer your question: “The last gift my father ever gave me before he died was a chess set. Let me tell you this story.”
You started answering the question. You are speaking effectively because asking the question focuses your mind. You are focused and poised because you know what you are talking about. Asking the question out loud starts the speaking process. Now you have momentum and will find it easier to continue speaking.
Here is another example.
Your topic is "Repairing a car" and you know nothing about repairing your car or even a bicycle for that matter. You ask aloud, "What could I tell you about repairing a car when I don't know anything about it?" Instantly an answer comes to you. "Get three estimates." You start talking about how best to get others to repair a car, and how to get it done cheaply. The answer came to you only after you asked the question.
Now that you know have the “do’s” of Impromptu Speaking, let me briefly touch on the three “don’ts.”
1) Never apologize. Apologies are annoying and defeating.
2) Don’t ramble. Be sincere. Not inventive. When you are forced to speak on your feet, it is easy to ramble. You repeat old statements; you backtrack; and on and on and on – holding the audience hostage.
One of the most logical ways to wrap up your speech is to briefly restate your original points and then conclude. You usually know when you’re rambling because your voice will take on a monotone.
Don’t get the hook. Leave with dignity.
3) Never thank the audience. We thank you for taking the time, the courage and the enthusiasm to come forward to the front of the room and deliver your speech. Bravo!