by Steve Adubato, PhD
Professionals are asked all the time to speak “off the cuff.” Some people call it extemporaneous or impromptu speaking. It’s one of the greatest fears of even the most confident people, yet it doesn’t have to be this way if you change the way you think about communicating in your professional life.
Q—Where are you most likely to be asked to speak on the spot?
A—It happens in meetings, conferences, sales presentations or public events like weddings and family parties. It can happen anywhere at any time. That’s the point. Since it can happen virtually any time, you shouldn’t be that surprised when it does.
Q—What are some of the ways I can handle impromptu speaking that will make me less anxious about it?
A—First, you should expect it. If you assume it could happen, you will be less anxious. The other thing is to always be prepared. But what does that really mean? Here are some things to consider.
No matter what you say, keep it brief. Say what you have to say and then sit down. You should also be a sponge, which means to stay in the moment and absorb everything happening around you. When you do this, you are presented with a myriad of things that you can play off of and make reference to. The other technique is to tie what other speakers have said to your comments. Agree, disagree or expand upon what has been said. So if you stay in the game and don’t zone out, you will always be prepared for any situation.
Q—What’s the difference between having a few moments versus a few hours to prepare?
A—There really isn’t that much difference. Just remember there are four critical questions that every communicator must consider; What’s my main message? How do I really feel about that message? What does my audience care about and/or what will move them? What exactly do I want my audience to do when I am finished speaking? Whether you have four days or four seconds to prepare a presentation, these same four questions must be asked or answered.
Being prepared also means having a few, real life anecdotes and/or examples that you know intimately and can share at any time. These personal experiences should be directly connected to different topics you may be asked to speak on. But remember, if you are a professional in business, you are not going to be asked to give an impromptu speech on zoology. Rather, you will be asked to speak about business, which is what you know and live every day.
Q—What are the most common mistakes people make when giving an impromptu speech?
A—Beyond being long winded, they continually remind their audience that they were not prepared to speak and apologize unnecessarily. But the biggest mistake is making the impromptu speech situation a much bigger deal than it really is.
Q—What does the audience expect from an impromptu speaker?
A—Short answer, not much. Most people know you’ve been put on the spot and don’t expect you to spew a ton of facts, figures and statistics. They are expecting something short and sweet--not a dissertation. Plus, the audience is also on your side. They are feeling your pain and empathizing with you. If you keep this in mind when you are asked to stand and deliver with little or no notice, you might actually learn to enjoy the experience.