Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Secrets of Effective Impromptu Speeches

 In a 2013 post How to Deliver Impromptu Speeches Without Anxiety I advocated preparing in advance for predictable requests to speak. If you are a startup founder, an explorer or a novelist you can easily imagine what people want you to talk about and prepare in advance.

Preparing in advance is immensely useful, but to improve your speaking skills to another level you need to master the ability to improvise on a broader range of topics. Clearly they have to be topics you know something about, so reading and listening to a variety of content will be useful. But that preparation alone is not enough; you will also need to improve your technique and there are three fairly simple rules that will help you do just that.

Start With an Idea. A speech will be much stronger when it is constructed around a well-formed idea -- you might recognize this as being at the heart of the success of the TED/TEDx format. Just talking about a subject in general might be simpler but if you start with a clear idea in your mind and you communicate this idea effectively then you are much more likely to make an impact. In speaking workshops I have noticed that there is a marked improvement in the quality of speeches when I provide participants with a list of ideas to choose from, rather than giving them a free choice. Instead of "Mars Exploration" I would suggest something like "Why Exploring Mars Benefits People on Earth". Sometimes you can anticipate requests and prepare topic ideas but even when you have to invent something at the last minute still choose a clearly defined position.

Illustrate Points With Stories. Ask audience members what they remember after any speech and the answer will always be the stories. Illustrate your talk with relevant, true stories -- preferably about personal experiences -- to make your speech memorable. Never make up stories because they have no depth, sound weak and will not fool many audience members who have probably heard the same myth before.Many people begin with a story, though that isn't needed, but tell at least one story that illustrates or supports your main idea. But don't tell too many stories because this can confuse people.

Package with Strong Open and Close. You can be excused if you wander a little in the heart of an improvised speech, but what will make it compelling and memorable is to have a strong opening and close, that frame your thoughts and make them stand out more. You could start with a story, a question or a surprising fact. All of these can work effectively. Avoid quotations because that tends to sound old-fashioned unless you have a fresh quote nobody has heard yet. And don't waste time introducing yourself, thanking people or explaining that you are unprepared. Get into your topic immediately and skip the introductions. Then at the end you will get a better reaction to your speech if you bring it to a satisfying conclusion. You could end with another story, a question, a challenge or another original quotation. Whatever you say it should feel like the end, perhaps because you answer the opening question or because you reach a conclusion. You can reinforce the sensation that you are at the end by giving a clue in your words and supporting that with your voice and facial expression.
Apart from these three rules and all the tips in the 2013 post, the secret of effective impromptu speaking is just practice. Look for opportunities where you can speak in front of a live audience on different topics and use these as a learning experience. With enough practice you will be able to speak comfortably on practically any topic in your domain of expertise without notes and with apparently no preparation.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
For workshops and one-to-one coaching about public speaking contact Andrew Hennigan on speaker@andrewhennigan.com or 0046 73 089 44 75.


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