So, what is an impromptu speech? An impromptu speech is a speech which is given without any thorough preparation. It is five- to eight-minute speech with a characteristically short preparation time of a couple of minutes.
This can be frightening, but it’s not the hardest of things. Today, I’ll give you 12 good tips you can use in the future. That said if you want even more information about impromptu speech and public speaking then definitely check out this list of the best public speaking books I have compiled for you.
Why give an impromptu speech? Here are the reasons:
- The actual speaker is running late or you have to give a speech totally last moment instead of the actual speaker.
- At a meeting, you are unexpectedly asked to give a longer overview of what’s happening.
- You are forced (or decide for yourself) to take part in a discussion (e.g., parents’ meeting).
- A cheering speech at a birthday party or other similar event (e.g., colleague’s birthday).
- An unexpected (or even agreed beforehand) interview.
- You must unexpectedly introduce yourself at an event or talk about your area of activity.
- Unexpected questions during a Q&A session following your presentation.
Remember that the better public speaker you are, the more people will be pointing in your direction, because no-one wants to go out there. So, get ready to be teased, „James, we all know you can do it so well…“
12 impromptu speech tips that will make you shine
1. A good speech has a structure
There are several speech structures, but I use the one called the FAT system.
- F = Feeling. Express how you feel about the subject of your speech
- A = Anecdote. Tell a story related to it. If it’s funny, even better.
- T = Tie back. Link the story to the subject.
F = Feeling
Share your feelings about the subject. If it makes you sad, show it. If it makes you happy, express it with all your nature.
A = Anecdote
The anecdote doesn’t necessarily mean making a joke. Indeed, if your story is funny and related to the subject, that’s just great. Keep in mind that the make-a-point-tell-a-story approach usually works well.
T = Tieback
When you’re done with your story, keep in mind that now is the time to link it to the subject. For example: if your topic is „Your Favourite Car Brand“ and you told a good story about which bad (or good) cars you’ve come across, now is the time, to sum up, the topic pointing out why you chose a particular car brand.
2. Practice giving a speech
Mark Twain once said, „It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech“. In other words, it can be practiced. The more you practice and the more topics you go through, the easier it will be.
You can practice alone or with your friends. One of the ways to do it with your friends is to play a game. Scroll down for instructions!
As a side note, I wrote an article (with 10 effective tips) about how to practice a speech. You can read it here.
3. Go on stage and give speeches whenever you get an opportunity
The more experience you gain, the better you will be able to handle unexpected situations. You’ll also learn how to deal with tricky questions and smarty pants.
By the way, I did my MA thesis on the fear of public speaking, in which I also studied the way in which the level of the fear of public speaking and the frequency of its occurrence is related. It revealed that the people who do public speaking more often suffer from the fear of public speaking significantly less than those who do it rarely.
Have a look at the figure below:
4. Believe you can do it
If you only focus on the idea of potentially failing, you focus on the wrong thing. You’re not the most important person at the moment of giving a presentation. Your listeners are. Anyway, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should I as a listener? Oftentimes, the audience is your allie, and you should keep that in mind at all times.
Why is the audience your Allie? Because the better you do, the more they will benefit from your presentation.
5. You could mention it’s an impromptu speech
An impromptu speech is just like any other speech, that is, it’s not a good idea to start your speech with an excuse. If the listeners are aware of the situation anyway, it might be worth mentioning. Do it in a brief and professional manner and avoid futile apologies.
Briefly explain why the speech is improvisation and get to the subject. If you use the above-mentioned FAT structure, it’ll be much easier for you to give a good speech.
6. Don’t forget about humor
For example: if you mention that it’s an impromptu speech, make a joke about the situation. Already today, it would be a good idea to think of a funny story or two about yourself for such occasions.
At the same time, keep in mind that if you’re not particularly good at making jokes, don’t try to overdo it. Equally important, never say „I’m going to tell you a funny story“ because you set the expectations high. Just say that you’re going to tell a story, and if the audience finds it funny, great success!
7. Think of universal introductions or stories to use in the future
Getting started with a story is always a good idea, especially, if it’s a personal one. For example, you can start with a story of how you had to give a speech once and what went wrong.
Sometimes, it may happen that you have to give a speech so unexpectedly that there’s no time whatsoever to think of a story introducing the subject. In this case, after making an introduction, you can make a transition in the form of a joke about yourself.
For example, you could say, „Some of you will wonder how this story is related to my presentation. It’s not, really… I just had to give a speech so unexpectedly that this story was the first thing that sprang to mind. Speaking of the subject… (and you go on with the actual subject)“.
But there’s a lot more to it so I wrote a complete guide on how to make a speech introduction that grabs the attention which you can read here.
8. If you get stuck, pretend it’s a meaningful pause
Remember that one speaker from Ancient Greece once summed up the fundamental truths about public speaking tips:
- Speak clearly to be heard.
- Stand straight to be seen.
- Be quiet to be enjoyable.
Take your time and try to avoid unnecessary voiced sounds during the pause – most people won’t even realize there’s something going on. And
9. Customize the topic and make it your statement
Sometimes, it’s the only solution. For example: if I’m unexpectedly asked to talk about maths for 15 minutes, I have to admit this is a subject I don’t know anything about.
So I have a couple of stories about how I wasn’t very good at maths at school and that there’s one thing I’m very good at when it comes to maths. Calculating percentages by cross-multiplying. Then, I’ll be talking about how it really helped me in practice and how the audience could use it.
To sum it up, if the subject is something you don’t know much about, you will adjust it a little and change the focus, talking about it from a perspective you feel more confident about.
10. In relation to your speech, find answers to the following five questions:
- What (or about what)?
For example: if you have to talk about the fact that you’re afraid to speak publicly, your speech could answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What have you done to cope with it and what could others learn from it?
- When did you succeed (or fail) in relation to the subject (add a short story here)?
- Where could your tips be used?
- Why is it important at all?
It’s essentially the same as the FAT structure but explained from another angle.
11. Turn your presentation into a Q&A session
If you have no idea what to say in the beginning, go for a Q&A session. For example, your topic is „How to Give a Speech“, but you don’t have any good idea. So you start with something like „Dear all, today, we’ll be talking about how to give a speech. How many of you have given an impromptu speech or done public performances unexpectedly? Yes, Paul, what were the circumstances?“
This way, you’ll get hints from the listeners about what you could talk about, and you can smoothly go over to your speech.
But if you say „Today, we’ll be talking about how to give a speech. First of all, you’ll be able to ask a few questions about what you find most important when it comes to our topic“, the questions asked by the listeners will give you an idea of what you should talk about.
Keep in mind that you have to encourage your listeners as they may be too shy to ask questions. If no-one asks a question, go back to one of the tips above.
12. Don’t blab all the time
An impromptu speech developing game you can play with your friends
It’s quite common to play different games in larger or smaller groups. The game I recommend is suitable for groups of all shapes and sizes.
- Beginner: On a piece of paper, each participant puts down a topic they are able to talk about for a minute or two, without preparation.
- Advanced: On a piece of paper, each participant puts down a completely random topic.
- Put all the topics together. Now, in turns, you pick one topic and start talking about it for about a minute or two, without preparation. If you pick the topic written by you, you put it back and pick a new one.
When one participant is finished, the next participant picks a new topic and starts with their speech.
- Other listeners shouldn’t interrupt the speaker during their speech.
- It is advisable to give feedback, especially by the person who has come up with the topic.
How does this game improve giving an impromptu speech?
First, you get used to talking about topics you don’t know anything about at a first glance.
Second, you get a wealth of experience in terms of how to customize a topic. For example: if you pick a topic entitled „My Trip to Spain“, but you’ve never been to Spain, you’ll be talking about „What I Could Do on my Next Trip to Spain“.
Third, you get feedback from other people about how you did. Pretty soon, you’ll discover that you’re actually much better than you think.
An impromptu speech can be frightening, but it’s not the hardest of things. It’s all in your head, and you can start fixing it now.
Have a look at my 12 impromptu speech tips and think of the situations where you can use one or the other. And then… go on stage. First thing. The more you practice public speaking, the better you get.
What is a persuasive speech? The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on. (full article here)
What is the elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is a well-thought, meaningful, and repeatedly practiced brief (about 30-60 seconds long) overview of who you are, what you offer, and how your partner can benefit from it (full article here).
What is audience analysis? Audience analysis gives you the opportunity to get as much information about the background of your listeners as possible. Using this information, you can prepare your message so that it builds on the interests, needs, and expectations of your listeners. (full article here)