Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
It’s public speaking anxiety Big Time. Whether you’re invited to say a few words on the spur of the moment at an event, or your job requires it of you, or you suddenly feel compelled to speak your mind about something, impromptu or-off-the cuff speaking is intimidating. Even experienced speakers are challenged by this. It’s normal to feel fear.
If you find yourself needing to speak NOW, here are some techniques to help you.
1. Scan the audience. Who are they? Why are they here? What do they expect or want from you?
2. Have something to say. Sounds easy, isn’t easy. Like all speeches you need to make a point. Don’t just start telling a story and hoping for the best. Know where you’re going.
3. Buy a little time to figure out what your focus will be. Depending where you are you can slowly fill your water glass, fumble for your glasses, make a visit to the bathroom before you get started…anything that gives you even a brief moment to think, because once you are underway you can’t stop and think.
4. Address your audience directly. Chances are you are being asked to speak on some sort of special occasion. You can ask if they can hear you, or pose a question like “is everyone’s glass full?” or say “isn’t it great to be here” or make a light hearted remark that gets a chuckle. This will create a relaxed connection and get them to focus on you.
5. Nail the start and the finish. “Bookending” is a useful technique. You open with a comment or anecdote or a piece of information which you return to at the close of the speech. It gives a sense of unity, completion and purpose. But more importantly, by knowing where you are landing, it is easy to travel through the speech to get there. If you think of nothing else, have your final few words in mind.
6. Keep it moving. Don’t embark on a sentence and then change direction, or go off course or pursue tangents. You must travel from the beginning to the end of your speech in a purposeful and polished way.
7. Apply the rule of three. Threes are always good. Talk about three characteristics of the person, or three stages of how you came to this issue, three reasons why this is important to you, three things this person has done, three things the audience should know…
5. Speak slowly. You can’t ever be too slow…but you can spoil the effect by going too fast.
6. If you are proposing a toast, do it with gusto – it’s the climax. Lead the applause.
Here is more on impromptu speaking from Andrew Duigan’s Six Minutes blog: How to Ace the Short, Impromptu Speech.
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. A few easy frameworks include: