All of us at some point have had to speak unexpectedly, either on our own volition or because someone thinks we have something to contribute. This speaking without preparation is known as impromptu speaking. You may be at a city meeting concerning zoning laws and have no intention of saying anything, but your strong opinions on the issue prompt you to raise your hand to speak. Or you are called upon by your manager at a staff meeting to report on a project you are involved in and had no forewarning that you were going to be asked to say a few words. How can you handle these situations with poise and competence? You do not want your words to be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Here is a formula that will make you look good and sound on top of things.
Don’t hesitate. Act as though you are delighted to have this opportunity to speak. Avoid hemming and hawing and mumbling “I’m not sure what to say,” or “I had not given this any thought.” Start confidently by making an assertion. For example, if you want to give your thoughts on recycling, you might begin, “I believe we should have bi-weekly pick-up to show we are serious about recycling.” Then give evidence that illustrates your point. This is where you include your personal experience with the matter. You might have lived in another community where recycling was started and you can give a case study of the success you had in that town.
Once you have given your minute to a minute-and-a-half response, you end by repeating the opening assertion. This is a neat little package that allows you to make a point in an organized and easy to understand structure.
Don’t speak more than a couple of minutes. Speaking for several minutes may mean you run out of new material, stray from this organization pattern, or even say things that are not logical, relevant, or insightful.
You can’t really prepare for an impromptu speech, but before any gathering of people, you can consider what topics will be discussed and how they might relate to you. Thinking ahead will allow you at least to consider areas where you might have input so that you are not blindsided by a question or request from a peer or the leader of the event.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University in the Cincinnati area. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.