How to Give an Impromptu Speech

No Time to Prepare? Don't Despair

High School student speech
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An impromptu speech is a speech that you have to make without much or any time to prepare. In life, this can happen when you attend special events, like weddings or celebrations. In school, teachers use impromptu speeches as homework assignments to help you develop communication skills and to help you prepare for those future life surprises.

While this may seem like a cruel trick from a student's point of view, it actually builds confidence and is great preparation for life.

Rarely will you be asked to stand and deliver a speech with no warning and no time to organize your thoughts. This would be unusual in the classroom unless the teacher is attempting to make a point about the importance of preparedness.

At some point in your life, however, you may be asked to speak without notice. There are a few things you can do to avoid panic and embarrassment.

  1. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. If you have a few moments before your speech is expected to begin, grab a writing utensil and something to write on, whether it's a napkin, envelope, or the back of a receipt you have on hand, and jot down a few thoughts.
  2. Highlight a few interesting or significant points. Keep in mind, your impromptu speech doesn't have to be long. A little-known fact about effective speeches is that if you start with a good line and then end with a really great punch, the speech will be perceived as a total success. So the beginning and ending markers are critical. The middle portion of your speech should relate to the event you're attending or the class assignment, but if you have to choose one great moment, your ending line is particularly important. If you can walk away gracefully, your speech will be a hit, so keep your big zinger for last.
  3. Try to memorize key points. If you have time before your speech, create an outline of the major themes or points and commit it to memory with a memorization trick, like an acronym. Don't try to remember the entire speech in detail like this; just remember important points.
  4. Hijack the topic. There is an old trick that politicians use when they're being interviewed on TV, and once you realize this, you can use it yourself. They think of questions ahead of time (or topics to discuss), prepare some talking points, and talk about those, despite the topic or question they're given. This is a handy trick when you're facing a hard question or asked to discuss a topic with which you're unfamiliar.
  5. Remember you're in charge of this time. Your goal is to deliver a one-sided conversation, off the cuff, so you are in complete control. Relax and make it your own. If you want to make this a funny story about your pesky little brother who always bothers you during homework time, then do it. Everyone will applaud your effort.
  6. Feel free to acknowledge that you have not prepared for a speech. If you are speaking in front of friends or family, it may ease your nervousness to express your lack of preparation. This should not be an attempt to garner pity, but rather a way to put yourself and your audience at ease. Then, take a deep breath before you begin speaking. Zone out the audience or choose someone specific to focus on, whichever makes you more comfortable.
  7. Begin with your introductory sentence, elaborate, then start working your way to your ending sentence. Fill in the middle space with as many points as you can, elaborating on each one as you go. Just concentrate on the zinger you've reserved for the end.
  8. As you deliver your speech, concentrate on diction and tone. If you are thinking about this, you won't be thinking about the eyes watching you. Your mind can't think about too many things at once, so think about breathing, enunciating your words, and controlling your tone, and you'll maintain more control.

What to Do If You Draw a Blank

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 you're pausing on purpose. Walk back and forth slowly, as if you're letting your last point sink in.
  2. There is always a jokester or friendly person who will stand out in the crowd. Make eye contact and try to draw a response from him or her while you think.
  3. If you need more time to think, you may want to ask the audience a question. Have a few prepared ahead, like "Do you have any questions," or "Can everyone hear me okay?"
  4. If you still can't remember what you were going to say, make up a reason to pause the speech. You can say, "I'm sorry, but my throat is very dry. Can I please get a glass of water?" Someone will go to get you a drink, and you will have time to think of two or three points to talk about.

If these tricks don't appeal to you, think of your own. The goal is to have something ready for every possible scenario ahead of time. If you know you may be asked to give an impromptu speech soon, try going through the entire preparation process with a few common speech topics.

When caught off guard, many people can suffer extreme anxiety about speaking off the cuff. That's why the best speakers are always prepared.