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 when you haven't prepared. 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 is actually 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.

Nonetheless, at some point in your life 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, whether it is a napkin, envelope, or the back of a piece of paper you have on hand.
  2. Feel free to acknowledge that you have not prepared for a speech. Do this in a professional way! This should not be an attempt to garner pity, but rather a way to put yourself and your audience at ease. Then, excuse yourself for a moment and take time to jot down a quick outline. Zone out the audience. They will be okay chatting and sipping water for a minute.
  3. Jot down interesting or significant points about your topic, which will be related in some way to the event you're attending. If it is a homework assignment you are addressing, for instance, write down your impression of the assignment or anecdotes about your time spent on it.Was it difficult? Why? Did you run into any road blocks during this assignment? Did you have the material you needed? Did your little brother interrupt you several times?
    Note: If you do nothing else, write down an introductory sentence and an ending sentence!
    There's a little-known fact about speeches. If you start your speech with a good line, then stumble and stammer for a few minutes, and then end your speech with a really great punch, the speech will still be perceived as a total success! The beginning and ending markers are critical.
  1. If you have to choose one great moment, keep in mind that your ending line is particularly important. If you can walk away gracefully, your speech will be a hit. Keep your big zinger for last.
    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 see it clearly. 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 that you can't really answer.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.As you deliver your speech, concentrate on diction and tone. If you are thinking about this, you are not thinking about the eyes watching you. This really works! Your mind can't think about too many things at once, so think about enunciating your words and controlling your tone, and you'll maintain more control.

    What to Do if You Draw a Blank

    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 the order of important points.

    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 like 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 joker or popular person who will stand out in the crowd. Stare at someone like this 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 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 trick is to have something ready ahead of time.

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