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Speaking On The Spot

When was the last time you were put on the spot? Perhaps your boss requested a last-minute presentation? There's always that awkward, killer question you hadn't thought of at the end.

What you need are impromptu speaking skills.

Impromptu speaking is the art of giving a speech or speaking in public with no preparation. For many people, this is their worst nightmare. How many times have you feared not having anything to say? Most people in this situation fumble, panic, stall for time, go blank and find themselves tongue-tied.

Don't be one of those people.

We've got lots of tips below to help you master impromptu speaking.

Impromptu Speaking Examples

You might be wondering, what situations lend themselves well to impromptu speaking? Why on earth would you want to learn it? 

Well, it's a handy skill to have. You might be asked to fill in at the last minute; perhaps the original speaker is indisposed. 

Or, you could be at a work meeting when you are asked your opinion on something.

Have you ever received an award for something, and someone shouted, "SPEECH!". What would you say?

Maybe you are on a first date with someone, and they ask you, "So, if you could be any animal, what would you be?"

When you think about it, an interview is a series of impromptu speeches for both the interview panel AND the candidate. Indeed, as the candidate, you cannot know the exact questions you will be asked.

One thing is sure, mastering impromptu speaking skills will make you a more confident speaker.

How To Improve Impromptu Speaking

Remember, by their very nature, impromptu speeches don't allow for any preparation. This also means there is no expectation and, therefore, no pressure. So go on, and be creative (it might not work in an interview, though!).

Don't panic. That will make things worse. You may end up fumbling your words or responding in an inappropriate manner. Instead, pause, take a deep breath, and think, "What a great question. If only I had a great answer to go with it."

You don't have to start as soon as the question has been asked. Give yourself a few seconds to think of a response. One excellent tactic is to repeat the question out loud. This instructs your brain to consider the answer. You'll be amazed how fast it can work when it has to.

Always go with the first relevant thing that comes to mind, and STICK TO IT. This is important, as if you switch answers halfway through, the result will be a confusing muddle.

Impromptu speeches are like any other speech, only in miniature form. They require a structure as simple as a beginning, middle and end. You can use the acronym PREP to help you with structure.

P - make a POINT

R - provide a REASON

E - EXPLAIN your reason

P - Conclude with the same POINT or a lesson learned.

Within your chosen structure, there are many ways to answer the posed question. You can incorporate a short story, perhaps a personal experience. Why not talk about the past, present and future? 

If you are struggling with providing an answer, try flipping the question on its head or re-framing it. Politicians often do this when put on the spot. They think of a list of possible questions beforehand with talking points and use those as a response, even if they are irrelevant. Always handy if unfamiliar with the question.

Impromptu Speaking in Toastmasters

At Toastmasters, we practice impromptu speaking in almost every meeting in a session we call table topics. These are short 1 - 2 minute speeches that the speaker cannot prepare for. Usually, the topics are based on a theme, such as a list of sayings or a random object list. It's a part of the meeting that is a lot of fun, where everyone can be creative, even the Topics Master leading the session.

Here are some example topics you can use as practice. Get a friend to read one out to you and have a go answering it. You should aim to speak for a minimum of at least 1 minute.

What would be your first action if you were president for a day?

Why do you think lottery winners often go broke?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? 

Do you like pineapples?

More impromptu speaking questions can be found here.

Best of luck, and have fun!

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