An impromptu speech is when you’re asked to speak in public without prior notice. It can be one of the most terrifying speeches you’ll ever do; standing up in front of a crowd and having to speak for a few minutes without preparation is daunting even for the most seasons speakers. It’s not likely to happen often, however when it does, you don’t want to be caught completely off-guard. Here are a few things to bear in mind if you’re asked to speak at short notice.
The first thing you should do when asked to speak, is to grab a pen and a piece of paper (or napkin - whatever you can find to write on). Jot down a few initial ideas, or even just a few words that you can expand upon during your speech. If you don’t write anything else, make sure you’ve written down your starting and ending sentences as these are the most important.
Next, think about what tone to speak in. This will depend on the type of event you’re at. For example, at a wedding you would speak informally and you can have fun with the speech, whereas at a business conference you would speak more formally and stick to a professional tone.
This is when it gets easy. Pick one of these frameworks to use as a structure to your impromptu speech and you’ll instantly feel more prepared. They’re easy to remember so you won’t have to write them down, and instead can just write down keywords for each point.
Following the 5 Ws provides instant structure to your speech and you’ll be able to organise your thoughts in an easy-to-follow way. You don’t even need to change the order - starting with ‘who’ gives context to the speech and ending with ‘why’ leaves the audience with the most important, relatable point.
For example, if you’re talking about a fundraising event you could say who started the charity, what the goals are, where it is heading, when the event is happening, and why it’s important.
Practice giving an impromptu speech in virtual reality with the VirtualSpeech app.
For this impromptu speech, start by talking about the advantages and disadvantages of the subject topic then end with a conclusion. This will make your speech informative and enable you to talk for a longer period of time than the 5 Ws. It’s important to not be afraid of silence when using this framework.
Given that there is less room for creativity, you may find you need to pause to think about what you’re going to say next. While you think, you could walk up and down the stage slightly as if you are letting your last point settle, ask if there are any questions, or ask for a glass of water. These techniques all buy you more time if your mind goes blank and save you (and your audience) from feeling awkward about a prolonged silence.
Storytelling is a powerful method of speaking and is an easy way of connecting with the audience. When having to speak when you aren’t prepared, start off small, then medium, and end large. Basically, talk about the event from an individual perspective, then a group or national perspective, and end with the bigger picture.
Storytelling is a great method of speaking and an easy way of connecting with the audience.
For example, if you’re asked to give a speech at a wedding, you could talk about when you met the couple and your experiences with them (small), what their relationship and marriage means to the rest of the wedding guests (medium), and end with the future of their relationship and their family legacy.
Being able to deliver an impromptu speech is an important skill to have and will save you a lot of anxiety when you’re asked to speak at the last minute. To prepare yourself for the unknown, you could practice impromptu speaking so that your brain is trained to think on the spot. Not only is this an effective way to learn but it’s also fun! In the Essential Public Speaking course, you can practice impromptu speaking in virtual reality, as well as learn a range of speaking techniques with online tutorials, to increase your skills and confidence.