There was nothing Andrew Brindle hated more than surprises.
So, when his boss pointed at him during the weekly meeting and said, “Your turn”, Andrew’s heart began beating a million miles an hour. He knew his time would come eventually, but every week when it was time for someone in his team to speak up he never volunteered and kept his eyes pointed toward the floor.
There was no escape now. Everyone in the team had done at least one speech in the last year. Andrew was the only one yet to get an impromptu speech on the board. All these thoughts just made his heart beat faster.
Logically, he knew that there was nothing that could go wrong. It was a safe, team environment. No client contracts hinged on the quality of his speech. No one lived or died by his words. He understood that, logically, but try and tell his emotional side that. Almost hyperventilating now. Nearly time to start breathing into a paper bag.
Andrew pulled himself together, stood, and made his way to the front of the room.
Standing there he could feel the blood rush to his face. As he began to speak his legs quivered uncontrollably and his words seemed weak. Andrew kept telling himself that it was only a few minutes, but this made it harder to collect his thoughts and his ideas were spilling out of his mouth in random order.
Have you ever felt like Andrew?
Delivering a speech is tough. Delivering an impromptu speech can feel even worse. But it needn’t be. Below are 3 easy steps to follow whenever you have to give an unplanned speech.
1) Think High to Low
In those brief seconds between being asked to give a speech and starting to speak, your mind can cloud up with all the information and concepts you need to talk about. The consequence of this is your speech often lacks structure, with concepts mashed together in a random order.
When prompted to deliver a speech “off the cuff”, it’s important to start by taking a deep breath. In that moment, remember that your audience are going to be most satisfied if you speak in a simple manner. Do this by thinking high to low: Abstract to Detail.
You’ll give your audience the best chance of absorbing your speech if you start off at an abstract level and then go down to detail.
Here’s what to do:
- Think of the conclusion or objective of your talk
- What are the three (or fewer) main points you can talk about to push the audience to the objective?
- Your abstract (starting point) is stating your conclusion/objective and a brief run-through of the three main points
- Your detail is talking about each of the three points in turn
If you follow this process you’ll make your unprepared speech easier for you to deliver and easier for your audience to listen to.
If you feel like you are getting no feedback from the audience (or that the audience have switched off entirely) your impromptu speech becomes more difficult to deliver. You end up focusing on why people are not listening rather than delivering your speech. You then fall into a bad cycle where your speech gets steadily worse as your audience steadily listens less.
Solve this problem and build your confidence by engaging your audience. You do this by asking questions.
You can start your speech with a question and you can continue to ask questions throughout. This keeps your audience engaged and has the “spotlight” bouncing between yourself and the audience which relaxes you and boosts your confidence.
A classic question to ask at the beginning of your speech is, “What do you know about…?”. So, let’s say you have to deliver an update on a project you’re working on. You could start your speech by asking, “What do you know about the Benson Project?”
You’re asked to do a speech and panic sets in. You don’t mind meetings, but you hate the spotlight and speaking to an audience. This is where the whiteboard or flipchart comes in.
Using a whiteboard or flipchart can remove the feeling of being under the spotlight and being judged. All you have to do is diagram what you are talking about. Even if you just write headings representing the main points as you move through your speech, that’s okay.
What happens when you are writing on the whiteboard or flipchart? You’re not standing staring into the eyes of the audience. You are most likely side-on to the audience as you write.
Your speech now feels more dynamic and interactive; you are more relaxed; the audience is more engaged and has more confidence in you.
It’s important that you turn around and look at the audience from time to time, but the benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to look at them 100% of the time.
Let’s take a simple example. Imagine you are giving an update on the Benson Project. There are three things you’ll talk about in your presentation:
- Last year’s financial results
- The Benson Project and new marketing campaign, and
- Projections for this year’s financial results
As you talk, write keywords on the whiteboard or flipchart. At the start of your speech, as you ask, “What do you know about the Benson Project?”, write “Benson Project” on the whiteboard and continue this way throughout your speech.
Follow these three simple steps and you will smash your impromptu speech out of the park.