Impromptu speaking is one of the best ways to practice thinking on your feet (refer to Part 1 of this post). There are good ways to go about prepping a speech in a limited time, and then there are bad ways. I hope to detail some of the more effective ways in this post.
Using your Prep Time Wisely
Time is your most scarce resource when it comes to impromptu speaking, but more specifically the time you spend preparing seems like it’s over before you even start thinking. Here’s a step by step of about how much time you should try to spend on each area, given that you’re provided two minutes to prepare:>/p>
0:00 - Draw your topics.
0:00 - 0:10 - Choose the topic you wish to speak on. Don’t waste time here, it will do you no good. Quickly pick the topic you have the most knowledge about or one that seems interesting to speak on.
0:10 - 1:00 - Build your basic framework. By the end of your first minute you should have a working outline of your speech, on a base level. You should have your introduction, main points, and conclusion brainstormed. If you’re using notes, they should each be labeled with 1-5 words. The shorter hand you can manage, the better. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean all the details should be filled in yet, that comes next.
1:00 - 1:30 - Fill the speech with meat. You should look to support each point with some rhetoric. This could include a personal story, example (literary, film, music, historical, etc.), analogy, or basic logic. Look to have one or two solid forms of support for each point. Don’t overload yourself.
1:30 - 1:50 - Wire everything up. Run through everything you’ve brainstormed so far and think about simple transitions and what you will actually say for five minutes. At this point you should start to feel like you have a finished product that you’re excited about presenting. 1:50 - 2:00 - Focus on your introduction and how you’ll start your speech. Repositioning your mind to the beginning of your speech will prepare you to actually start speaking, and to begin confidently.
2:00 - Ready, set, go!
After you give your speech, document your outline and all the examples you use. Begin to build a list of these things so that you can study them and be more prepared each and every time you give a speech.
Practicing in this way will enhance your overall critical thinking skills that take place on a public platform. Whether it’s on the platform at a conference or in a sales meeting with a potential client. It might be a scary way to test yourself, but nothing is scarier than feeling and looking unprepared in a real situation where you need these skills.
Impromptu speaking skills are coveted by the masses, if not for any other reason than to have the ability to speak on virtually anything given only a short time to prepare. While this task seems fairly trivial, the implications of being able to do such a thing are huge. Becoming a great impromptu speaker gives you great confidence, foresight on handling speech messups, a solid handle on any type of Q&A your audience might throw your way, but most importantly, you will learn how to think on your feet.
So how does one become a great impromptu speaker? Practice. Boring and cliche, I know, but it’s true. No matter how much you think about thinking on your feet, you’ll only get better at it by doing it.
How do you practice? First, grab some impromptu topics by printing off a bunch of quotes from any of the various quotation websites. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on these and asking yourself if you could give a speech on it. That ruins the entire purpose. It would be ideal if you could get someone else to do this step for you. Then, cut the quotes up so that each quote is on its own slip of paper. Stick these quotes into an envelope and shuffle them around. Now you’re ready for the fun part. Draw three quotes and spend 15 seconds choosing the one you think you could give the best speech on. Place the leftover quotes back in the envelope. Now give yourself two minutes to prepare speaking for five minutes. If need be, you can use a notecard to jot your notes down on. (The less you depend on/use the notes method, the better you will become at thinking on your feet.) After your two minutes are up, no matter how ill you feel, give your speech and try to last for five minutes. You can do this in front of a mirror or any friends that are willing to listen. Rinse, repeat.
The more times you go through this “ritual,” the more comfortable you’ll become in front of any audience speaking on any topic, whether you’ve prepared the speech ahead of time or you’re dealing with Q&A at the end. Look for part 2 of this post to come soon with tips and tricks on using your two minutes of preparation time to form a great five minute speech. In the meantime, impromptu away!
Giving a talk in front of tons of people is tough. Keeping your audience interested is even tougher. Thankfully, there are ways to frame your talk to automatically hold better attention, no matter the topic. The method can be summed up in one phase: “Say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say it again.” So basically, three steps:
1. Say what you’re going to say
This should be found in your introduction. It is not enough to just have a talk title. For example, if your talk is titled “Why Twitter is Awesome,” your talk can still go a number of different directions. You’ll want to give your listeners a road map so that they know where they are at all times. This can be done quickly and to the point. For example: “In my talk today, I’ll be demonstrating how Twitter is awesome by demonstrating a few key user functions, addressing the functionality of the API, and ways that marketers currently use the service.” You’ve just summed up your talk in one sentence. Great!
2. Say it
This is obviously the most straightforward part of your talk. It is the meat, the creme dela creme, the real caviar of your talk. One thing to keep in mind, though, is the road map you laid out in your introduction. Reference it each time you move from point to point so your listeners can easily gauge the progress of your talk.
3. Say it again
Now that you’ve laid out your road map, told them everything you had planned, you should remind them what you said. Seem redundant? It’s not. The human attention span is so short, many have forgotten the majority of your talk by the time it’s over. But by reminding them in your conclusion in one or two sentences, similar to your introduction, it allows them to bring back the information they almost lost and package it away in their long-term memory.
Keep your audience engaged and informed. Remember in your talk preparations to leave room for saying what you’re going to say, saying it, and saying it again. (Yes… that’s the third time I’ve said it.)