If you’re not sure what you’d like to say right away, pause for thirty seconds to think and take a deep breath or two. You may want to just say whatever comes to top of your head. Avoid this; you may end up rambling. Silence can be uncomfortable, but no one will blame you for taking some time to collect your thoughts.
On the other hand, the Globe and Mail says you don’t want to take too long to think about your answer. If you let yourself think too far past the thirty-second mark, you may feel like nothing you’re coming up with is right, which may keep you from communicating as strongly as you’d like.
Leadership expert Kevin Eikenberry says that in the moment before you begin speaking, decide what you want your main point to be. Again, this can help you avoid rambling. Your message will be stronger and more easily understood if you get to it as soon as possible. If you ramble on and on without a sense of direction, your listeners may get lost along the way.
Reminding listeners of your main point is a good practice regardless of what you said immediately before. But maybe you’ll find yourself in a situation where, in spite of your best efforts, your answer does ramble a little. Don’t be hard on yourself—sometimes even prepared speeches lack a cohesive shape. If you feel you’ve lost your listeners somewhere between point A and point B, simply conclude by reminding them what your main argument is.
There are a few different ways you can structure your answer effectively. There’s the classic three-part structure of beginning, middle and ending. Introduce your idea, explain it with examples or stories, and then conclude with a summary.
You can also frame your remarks in terms of time by explaining what happened in the past, what’s happening now, and what needs to happen in the future.
Or, you may want to present your answer as a cause/effect story explaining a problem’s cause, its effect and a possible solution.
The best impromptu speakers present themselves with a sense of ease and confidence. With that in mind, try pretending that you’re having a conversation with a friend. If you’re doing your impromptu speaking in a meeting, one way to actively do this is by involving listeners in your remarks somehow. This could be linking your comments to things they said earlier, addressing them by name or including them in hypothetical examples.
You can improve your impromptu speaking skills if you take more opportunities to speak off the cuff. Speak up more often in your meetings and practice expressing your thoughts at a moment’s notice. If you’d like even more practice, you may want to find a local Toastmaster’s club in your city; there, you can gain experience speaking off the cuff in an environment where everyone wants to improve their public speaking skills, too.
With time and practice, you can get better at impromptu speaking. Just remember that your listeners are sympathetic, and it’s likely they won’t remember much about how you said something; they’ll remember what you said. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters.
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