By Rick Sheridan, Assistant Professor of Communications, Wilberforce University
Speaking in public often is considered to be one of the worst fears people have. Impromptu speaking, where you have little time to prepare, is even more frightening for many people. Here is a summary of advice and insights from several sources to help you to quickly develop and deliver an effective and entertaining impromptu speech.
1. Take the first step. Try to make the most out of the few seconds you have between the request and when you start to speak. Before you speak, quickly organize your topic into one of the following patterns:
Topic block:Break your speech into several of the most important topics, such as production, marketing, and advertising.
Chronological block:Arrange information into components, such as the past, present, and future plans related to the topic you are speaking about.
Controversial blocks:Think of any areas where there is a disagreement. You can move from pro to con and explain the parts of the disagreement.
Hierarchical blocks:From easy to hard. You could start out with the easy-to-understand parts of the situation and eventually discuss the more difficult components of your topic.
Question blocks:Ask the audience a challenging rhetorical question and then spend time answering it for them.
Q&A format:Ask the audience what they would like to know about the topic and provide your feedback. Be aware that you may get complicated questions you are not really prepared to answer (Zarefsky, D., “Public Speaking: Strategies for Success,” 5th Edition, Allyn & Bacon, 2007).
2. Begin to speak. Offer an introductory remark. This will give you a little more time to get organized: “Thanks, Ted, I am happy to offer my perspective on the situation. I did not plan a formal presentation but would be happy to describe the situation at my department.” You also could begin your impromptu speech with an anecdote, a provocative question or interesting fact, a current event that relates to the topic, or an objectives list for the lecture.
Start your talk with one of the categories, such as the chronological block: “During the last year, we have introduced three new products, hired a new assistant manager, and expanded our manufacturing department. In January, we finished development on the first new product. In February, we began development of the second new product. In March, we began a national search for a new assistant manager.” This will give you several sub-topics to elaborate on. You can begin to fill in the details for one sub-topic at a time, giving yourself additional time to think of ideas to elaborate on. Eventually, you can move on to the other topics, depending on how long you need to speak.
3. Other tips.
4. What if you draw a blank? Even though you have done everything else right, you may still run out of material, suddenly lose your train of thought, or draw a complete blank. There are a few you can do to keep from panicking:
Application: How could we use this information in___?
Comparison: How is your topic similar or different from___?
Validation: Why do you believe this response is best?
Evaluation: Why do you think this concept is so important?
Classification: What categories could you organize this into?
Induction: Based on what you know, what is the big picture?
Error analysis: How is this information misleading?
Analyzing: What is the reasoning behind that perspective? How have others struggled with this information? What does this information have to do with real life?
5. Conclusion.Congratulations, you made it through most of your impromptu speech. Now is the time to come up with a good conclusion that puts everything into perspective:
Blake, R., and Clemens W., “After-Dinner Verses: A Collection of Impulsive and Impromptu Verses,” Omnigraphics, 1999.
Gabour, C., “Presentation Skills Training” (ASTD Trainer’s Workshop), ASTD Press, 2008.
Kleiser, G., “Impromptu Speeches: How to Make Them,” Thackeray Press, 2009.
Wood, M., “How to Present Impromptus and Take Interviews,” NewInsight Publications, 2010.
Wydro, K., “Think on Your Feet: The Art of Thinking and Speaking Under Pressure,” Prentice Hall, 1981
Zarefsky, D., “Public Speaking: Strategies for Success” (5th Edition), Allyn & Bacon, 2007.
Rick Sheridan is an assistant professor of communications at Wilberforce University in Ohio. His articles have been published by theSt. Petersburg Times, Chicago Sun-Times, New Orleans Times-Picayune,and United Press International, along with referred journals Educauseand Academic Exchange Quarterly. For more information, visit http://RickSheridan.com.