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Updated: Apr 23, 2021

There is a good chance you’ll be asked to speak about something, on the spot, without any time to prepare. These speeches are frequently referred to as “impromptu”. It can be nerve wracking to suddenly find yourself in a situation where you have to present in front of people, especially those whom you don’t know well and in professional environments. Negative thoughts can instantly flood the mind triggering a host of emotions including fear, anxiety, and anger. Instead of looking for the closest exit where you can quickly make your escape, consider this common and tried and true formula:

Tell them what you are going to tell them

Tell them

Tell them what you told them.

I’ve used this approach multiple times. The basic outline provides a map of how to present any information. For example, if I were asked to tell people what I do then I could quickly fill in the blanks shown here:

Tell them what you are going to tell them:

I am going to show you how a public speaking coach can help improve public speaking skills.

Tell them:

Public speaking coaches help people

  • Gain confidence and feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd

  • Deliver their message authentically

  • Mold their message into a high impact experience

  • Sharpen their communication techniques

  • Manage nerves and anxiety when speaking publicly

  • Prepare and deliver a compelling, engaging speech

  • Use body language to enhance their speech

  • Speak fluidly without the use of fillers

  • Discover their voice and style unique to them for positive results

Tell them what you told them.

Public speaking coaches can help people improve their public speaking skills in many ways. An experienced, qualified coach can help people hone their message and polish their presence. A coach will assess a person’s skills, challenges, and aspirations and create a plan that fits their needs and schedule, breaking through public speaking challenges and self-inflicted barriers.

Then, I throw in a call to action at the end such as,

On that back table are fliers/brochures/my business cards, etc. Please take one if interested in learning more about public speaking training.

So, there it is – my impromptu speech. On the spot, I was given the topic “what do you do/tell them what you do” and a formula to convey that message. Since I already know what I do, it was easy to fill in the blanks. “I am going to tell you what I do - this is what I do/I offer these services - this is a summary of what I just told you”. Of course, it’s helpful to be clear how your audience benefits from the message and what they can do with it, and how they can take advantage of it.

During a Toastmaster’s meeting a few years back, I was asked to do a 1-2 minute impromptu speech about my favorite food. I had no time to prepare other than the time it took to leave my seat and walk to the podium. I went with what first came to mind…strawberries. I really like them even though they are not my favorite. It didn’t matter; the audience didn’t know that. I just needed to talk about my favorite food. I knew my short presentation had to target the audience and I applied the basic impromptu speech formula. Here’s a brief of how it went:

“My favorite food is strawberries. I’m going to explain why and I warn you, after hearing my speech, you may leave today craving them. I like strawberries because…yada yada yada”. I ramble off a list of reasons including health benefits, how good they taste, and yummy recipes, and then finish with, “so now you know why I like them and also how you can benefit eating them too. I recommend checking out local farmer’s markets for fresh, vine-ripened delicious strawberries”.

Pretty simple. Despite the simplicity of the topic, I won the “best speech” award for the night. With a plan in place, the route (to present) can go smoothly. I recommend thinking through possible impromptu speeches that you could prepare for such as the common “what do you do” type of questions to minimize angst and pull off a polished speech.

- Lisa Kleiman

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