"There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars."
Mark Twain

Speaking impromptu, without preparation or advance thought, accounts for about 99% of what we say.  Therefore, it is vital that we learn to be organized in our thoughts so they can be quickly and accurately delivered.

I'll throw in a bit of trivia:

Impromptu speaking is often referred to as speaking "off the cuff".  This term is believed to have originated with waiters who were among the first people to use their shirt cuffs as notepads to take orders or calculate a tab.  Shirt cuffs were also handy for speakers who could jot down notes during a meal and deliver their remarks afterward from an arm's length note card.

Speaking without preparation or advance thought.....spontaneity.  As contradictory as it sounds, spontaneity takes a lot of preparation and rehearsal.  Mark Twain once said "It usually takes me more than 3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

We live in a headline society.  Being able to bottom-line your thinking will help make you a top-line success.  Consider the 30-second television commercial.  In that time, they have to

If you can't focus, you can bore us for minutes when you could interest us in seconds.  If you can't say it in 30-seconds, you probably can't say it at all.

Speaking impromptu requires a lot of practice, as silly as that sounds.  And the more you practice, the more you will be able to speak clearly, logically, and with purpose.

So you may be asking, "How do I practice something when I don't know what I'm going to be asked to speak about?"  Good question.

An impromptu speech (or answering a question, or giving your opinion, etc.) is simply a mini-speech and therefore, it has an opening, middle, and a close.

Here is what to practice:

    1.  Take time to collect your thoughts.  Relax. Take deep breaths.  Silence your inner critical voice.  Walk slowly to the podium or stand up behind your chair.......whatever will give you a bit of time.  Don't feel rushed.  Most of us begin speaking before we have a clue what we are going to say.  If silence makes you uncomfortable, you could say "Let me consider that just a moment before I answer."  Then continue moving toward the front of the room, or standing, so the questioner won't move on without hearing from you. 

    Listen.   Make sure that you are clear about what your questioner is asking you - what they want from you.  Ask for clarification if you are unsure.  Asking the questioner to repeat the question can buy you some time, or you can repeat the question yourself.  Then... don't begin until you have a GOAL for what you want to say.

    2.  Think of an engaging first sentence.  If you have time, write this sentence out and have it solidly in your head.  Remember, it is the most important thing you will say because it will either have your audience listening or turning you off.

    3.  Think of a few statements that will support your position and get you to your goal.  Jot down a few bullets if you like so you won't forget what you wanted to say.  A good way to keep you on track is to think of an acronym whose letters will remind you of your points.  Make sure your points are in a logical order.

    4.  Close by coming back to your goal.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

In one of my presentation skills workshops, we were practicing speaking impromptu using the above format.  We would write a word on the board and quickly call on someone to speak on the subject.  The first woman called upon did an outstanding job of coming up with a goal, developing an engaging first sentence, following with reasons to support her goal, and coming back to her goal.

The word on the board was:


She slowly rose from her chair, taking time to walk to the front of the room. She paused before speaking, and then looked at the audience and said,

"I bet most of you have something in your freezer that is more valuable than cash." (engaging first sentence). She continued:  "Because most of you have fish in your freezer.  And if you eat fish three times a week, it will lower your blood pressure, help prevent cancer, etc."....(and she listed other benefits). (getting to her goal)

"So I hope you will consider eating more fish.  Because fish can keep you healthy, and that is more valuable than cash.  Because cash can't buy good health." (back to her opening).

Her goal:  to get people to eat more fish.  She thought of that first, then thought of an engaging first sentence.  Then she added her points to get her to her goal, and closed by stating her goal.

The next participant was a man.  He took the same approach but had a different message.....


He said, "You can have a fabulous vacation with your family and spend practically no money doing it." (engaging first sentence). 

He continued..."Have you ever thought of taking your kids fishing?  There is nothing that excites a child more than sitting on a bank or on a dock with Mom or Dad and seeing that little fish jumping around on the end of his line as he pulls it out of the water. Those are memories you and your child will never forget."(getting him to his goal). 

He closed by saying, "So I hope you will think of fishing the next time you want an unforgettable time with your family." 

His goal: to let people know of an inexpensive activity that would be enjoyable and memorable: fishing.

Can you apply this to business?  Of course you can.  Think of opportunities that come up in the course of your day.  List as many potential questions as you can, and work with those.  Practice thinking quickly of a goal, an engaging first sentence, supporting statements, and closing.  Before long, it will become second nature to you. 

Some people find it helpful to use the PREP System:

P =Point "The point I want to make is."
R =Reason "The reason I say this is"
E =Example/experience "For example/my experience is"
P =Point "in summary, my point is"

Here's another exercise if practiced daily, will bring focus to your day, and you will know it so clearly that you will be able to speak of it in an organized manner:

Ask yourself:

    1.  What are the top issues on my plate today?
    2.  Why are they top priority?
    3.  What's the current status of these issues?
    4.  What is the outcome I want?

One of my workshop participants, John, having been through our class only the day before and learning the above, called us enthusiastically to tell us the CEO of his company (whom he rarely sees) was in the elevator that morning when John stepped in.  The CEO asked John how things were going in his division.  Having started his day with the above exercise, John clearly and concisely answered the CEO's question, leaving the CEO feeling that John was really on top of things - definitely the right person for the job. 

Unfortunately, when asked how things are going, most of us usually just say "fine".  What a missed opportunity!

Think in terms of brevity and clarity.

Feel and act confident.  Smile at the audience.  Deliver your thoughts slowly to give you time to think and the audience time to absorb.  Talk directly to the audience and adapt their feedback.  Maintain good eye contact.  Be brief; don't ramble or say too much on the subject.  Speak at the audience's level.  Don't try to memorize what you are going to say (with the exception of the first sentence).  Memorizing will add to your anxiety because you will be concentrating on the words and not on the message. Keep it conversational.

When you develop this skill, it will become second nature to you.  It will create a whole new mind-set.  And you will never again stumble through an opportunity to show how together you really are!