Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.
Part 5: Preparing Your Message

Chapter 26
Impromptu Speaking

Speaking extemporaneously or impromptu is a skill that can be developed through practice. Even experienced speakers don’t look forward to opportunities to give presentations completely without preparation. It’s certainly easier on your nerves to have sufficient advance warning to be able to design an effective message. However, in the real world of busy schedules, important causes, and hungry audiences, sooner or later every spokesperson will have to deliver an impromptu speech.

I have found that speakers who keep their skills sharp by giving at least one speech per month have an easier time giving effective impromptu presentations. This is due, of course, to their having the information fresh, on the tips of their tongues, and some ongoing acquaintance with various organizations.

Speaking extemporaneously will be less intimidating if you will keep in mind that most impromptu speeches are very short, and that you will probably be asked to speak only on subjects with which you are quite familiar.

I recommend the following five-step process to help organize thoughts quickly:

  1. Audience rapport
  2. Topic statement and point of view
  3. Evidence and support
  4. Audience impact
  5. Summary and conclusion

Audience Rapport

Try to begin your presentation by capturing the audience’s interest and by building audience rapport. The methods described in Chapter 23 on message design are also appropriate for beginning your speech. One excellent rapport-building device is to highlight something that you and your audience have in common – something that pertains to your subject.

Topic Statement and Point of View

Make certain that everyone in the audience knows what you’re talking about early in your speech, and why it’s important to them. If an audience has to wait long to find out what your topic is, they will lose interest; their attention will drift away. When you are speaking out on an important issue, you can heighten audience interest if you state your point of view early. When the audience knows what you’re talking about and what your point of view is, then you can devote some time to supporting your position or to providing the information and audience needs – and is primed for.

Evidence and Support

The bulk of your impromptu speech will consist of information, evidence, and other supports that will justify holding the point of view you espouse. Using the following devices as you present your information will help you increase audience interest.

Personal Experiences. Most listeners enjoy hearing about another person’s experience in dealing with a particular problem or in doing something unusual. Your own personal experiences are usually far more interesting than “company policy.” Sharing your personal experiences on the topic may also bolster your credibility.

Illustrations and Comparisons. Relate your topic to something you know the audience has experience with. The more you relate your topic to knowledge the audience already possesses, the more colorful and unusual your illustration or your comparison is, the longer the audience will remember it.

Facts and Statistics. A few well-chosen facts will enhance your credibility and serve to inform your listeners. If you use too many numbers, you will put your audience to sleep. Keep the quantity of data low and round off numbers whenever possible.

Experts and Authorities. Quoting from or mentioning experts and authorities on the subject may increase the audience’s interest, enhance your credibility, and lend support to your position. Be certain to match the audience and the authority carefully; by quoting from an authority held in low esteem by your audience, you may hopelessly alienate your listeners and ruin your case.

Audience Impact

Don’t presume that your audience will see the importance of your message to them. Point out to your audience specifically what your message means to them.

Summary and Conclusion

Briefly summarize your key points at the end of your speech. Be certain to reinforce your bottom-line message. When you want audience action, be sure to ask for it clearly. The last words you speak are most likely to be remembered; don’t just fade away. End your speech with a purpose – with emphasis, style, and conviction.

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