The Extemporaneous Presentation: When and How

The extemporaneous presentation is one that is carefully prepared, but not memorized. You organize the speech but do not write it out word for word. Instead you use key words and key phrases to trigger the next thought. Note cards or sheets of paper encased in plastic covers are the most efficient methods of delivering this presentation.

This mode of presentation is the one where you can make the best contact with your audience. You can also adjust your length and even content of the presentation as you speak. Even though you are carefully prepared, you should not sound memorized or that you are reading your notes to the audience.

Here are some steps you can take to assure you that you are preparing an extemporaneous presentation.

Begin by spending time in thinking about what you want to say. Don’t write things down yet because once you have an idea on paper, other ideas are less likely to be considered. Talk about the topic to a friend. Google the topic and see what you can find.

Once you have spent a few days pondering the topic, write notes down on paper. Don’t worry about organization at this point and don’t write in complete sentences for this will tempt you to write out your speech.

As in a jigsaw puzzle, begin to fit the pieces of thoughts and words together in a rough outline. Based on your thoughts, consider what will make up the key points and the support for each one. Which part would be the best way to start and where are you going to place the strongest argument?

Then you are ready to practice the speech. Don’t worry about word choice or even how the ideas fit. Talking through your speech will give you ideas on the best transitions, wording of your main points, and use of nonverbal cues.

Practice aloud at least three times and one of the times should be with someone as your “audience” listening to give you feedback. Practice with the notes you plan to use in the actual   speech. On the day you speak, look through your notes and practice some small portion of the talk, such as one of your stories (you will, of course, have good stories!) and the opening two minutes. This will increase your comfort level and build confidence.

This speech style should be the one most speakers choose to incorporate in their presentations. You will appear most natural, most attentive to your audience, and more at ease than in either of the two types—manuscript and impromptu—we have discussed earlier.

One of my favorite definitions of public speaking is conversation with a purpose. Extemporaneous speaking best exemplifies this definition.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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