Lesson 14. Impromptu presentations


Impromptu presentation is quite similar to that of a coup. It can unnerve the best public speaker. One of the most daunting experiences a person can face is the request to deliver a speech without notice. When caught off guard, many people can suffer extreme anxiety about speaking off the cuff. That's the reason perhaps that smart people are always well-prepared.

Teachers sometime assign impromptu speeches based on homework assignments. This would be unusual in the classroom, unless the teacher is attempting to make a point about the importance of preparedness. While this may seem like a cruel trick from a student's point of view, it is actually a great preparation for life. Adults often find themselves called upon to stand and deliver at social events, business meetings, club meetings, and family functions. Rarely may you also be asked to stand and deliver a speech without warning and without much time to organize your thoughts.

An impromptu presentation is quite testing and its success rests more with your audience believing your spoken words unscripted or unprepared where you would speak without preparation, develop content, and choose words as you are speaking. In the field of business, this does not necessarily mean that you have no prior knowledge or background regarding the topic.  Knowing your subject matter is the best way to prepare for impromptu situations.   In some circumstances, you may be asked to respond to an idea that you have not considered before.  At this moment you should try to think on prior experiences to formulate a response and you should  organizing your thoughts into a logical order and the response should also be clear as well as confident which enhances your credibility and makes you appear thoughtful and knowledgeable.

The grammatical explanation of the term “impromptu” can be given as follows;

 (Impromptu :) adv. /a. 1. extempore; unrehearsed–n. 2. improvisation

In fact a good impromptu presentation requires more effort; effort to make it sound unpolished, candid and energetic.

14.2. Some impromptu presentation Scenarios:

Impromptu speaking may not be as glamorous as prepared speech, but it is an equally a vital skill simply because of the fact that there are so many scenarios where you find yourself speaking without more than a few moments of preparation. It’s of no surprise that “impromptu speaking sessions” are found within Toastmasters meetings, college communications courses, and public speaking seminars.

Following are few situations where you find yourself speaking off the cuff:

  • The scheduled speaker is unavailable (or late), and you’ve been asked to fill in.

  • You are sitting on a panel and answering questions from the audience.

  • You are fielding questions after your own talk.

  • You are facing an interview on television, radio, webinar, or telephone.

  • You are invited (at the last moment) to say a few words at a company gathering

  • You are asked to provide a brief status report for your project at a department meeting

  • You are forced to join the debate at the parent association meeting for your child’s school.

It’s also worth noting that the better you are at giving prepared speeches, the more and more you will be invited to speak with no time for preparation at all. Your friends and colleagues will recognize your speaking skill, and when they need “someone” to say a few words… you’ll be that someone!

14.3. There are a few things you can do to avoid panic and discomfiture while impromptu presentation

  1. Feel free to admit that you have not prepared a speech. But this should be done in a professional way! This should not look as an attempt to gain pity, but in a way to put yourself and your audience at ease. Then, take time to jot down a quick outline. Zone out the audience. They will be okay with chatting and sipping water for few moments.

  2. Enlist interesting and significant points about the given topic, which will be related in some way to the event you're attending. If you do nothing else, write down an introductory sentence and an ending sentence. Your ending line is more important. If you can speak gracefully, it will be a success. Keep your zinger for last.

  3. Capture the topic. Your aim is to deliver a one-way talk, off the cuff, so you are in absolute control. Get relax and make it look your own. Everyone will applaud your effort.

  4. Begin with your opening sentence, elaborate it, and proceed to your way to ending sentence. Fill in between the speech as many points as you can and elaborate each one as you go. Just remember the zinger you've reserved for the end.

  5. As you deliver your presentation, concentrate on diction and tone. This really works! Your mind can't think about too many things at once, so think about your words and controlling your tone.

  6. You should stick to the basics and aim for a solid beginning. You can refer a particular date, person or a place. Then you can locate your subject into this framework. Ensure that each of your point is self-standing. Use dynamic verbal imagery and the active tense to reinforce your responsibility. The conclusion of your presentation should bring everything together–wrap up, re-emphasize and confirm.
  7. Develop understanding. Don't let your audience be in the dark. If you want them to understand something, spell it out. If you want them to do something, you must ask them to do it.
  8. Always use pace and pauses. Be alert to your pace and pauses. You wish your audience to follow you and remain engaged. With a slower delivery pace you can aim for your audience to react to your words and thereby you can have your eye over your next point.
  9. Anticipate situations where you may be called upon to speak. For example, if you are attending an engagement party for a close friend or family member, there are reasonable chances that you might be asked to speak. Similarly, if one of your close colleagues is scheduled to speak (e.g. your boss, your peer, or your report), it’s also reasonable to presume that you will find yourself speaking. As you go ahead with the event, do a few mental exercises; try to guess what you might be asked to speak about, and how you would respond. Even if your guess isn’t accurate, it’s quite amazing how those prior thoughts will help you to speak.
  10. Wrap your response around a simple template or framework. If you practice this a few times, you will find that your mini-speeches are much more polished and coherent.
  11. Turn your impromptu session into a Question &Answer session. In situations where you are asked to speak when the schedule speaker is absent, it may not be wise to launch into a 45 minute impromptu speech. Even the most accomplished        speakers are prone to meander in that situation. Instead, turn the session as a Question &Answer session, which breaks it up into a series of very small impromptu speeches and it shall be easier for you to answer individually. Moreover, the content    comes directly from the audience, so you are guaranteed to deliver what they are seeking.
  12. Use personal stories. Storytelling is a much required skill for prepared speaking, but it is equally useful for impromptu speaking as well. Stories are emotional, real, and interesting. If you stick to personal stories, you’ll find that it is much easier to speak even without preparation because the events happened to you.
  13. Avoid the tendency to go on, and on. Stick to a coherent message, and then be quiet. Rambling on will only weaken your overall speech. If you must speak for some more time, shift into a Question &Answer.
  14. Take it easy. Everyone wants to speak perfectly every time, but demanding perfection from you during an impromptu speech is just like setting the bar too high. The audience recognizes that you’ve been thrown in at the last minute, and they will understand your situation. So, take it easy.
  15. If you have time before your presentation, create an outline of the major themes or points and set it to memory with a memorization trick, like an acronym. Never try to cram the entire speech in detail; just remember the order of important points. Although you may only have a few seconds to prepare for any particular impromptu situation, you certainly can prepare yourself to be ready when called upon.

14.4. If you suddenly lose your train of thought or draw a complete blank, there are a few you can do to keep from panicking.

  1. Pretend as if you're pausing for a purpose. Walk back and forth slowly, as if you're letting your last point sink in.

  2. There shall always be a person in the crowd. Stare at one of them and try to draw a response from him or her while you think.

  3. If you need more time to think, you can ask the audience a question; "Do you have any questions," or "Is it alright?"

  4. If you still can't remember what to say, make up a reason to pause the presentation. You can say, "I'm sorry, but my throat is not working properly. Can I please have a glass of water?" Someone from the audience will go to get you a drink, and thereby you will have some more time to think of two or three points to talk about.

If these tricks don't appeal to you, think of your own. The trick is to have something ready in advance.

I’m pretty comfortable when I have days or even weeks to prepare a speech, but I REALLY struggle when I’m asked to speak at a moment’s notice. Do you have any tips for impromptu speaking?- Matthias K.

"If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now." - Woodrow Wilson






Last modified: Thursday, 1 August 2013, 7:20 AM