Preparing for speaking is a needed skill, but almost as important is the ability to speak off the cuff. Most of the world would probably call this “impromptu speaking,” but the understanding of that term can vary. You can certainly learn to talk without preparation, but it’s not really talking off the top of your head.

The need arises in a variety of circumstances. For instance, you’re attending a PTO meeting at your child’s school, when an unexpected, new motion comes to the floor. If you don’t speak now, you’ll miss your chance. Or your boss knows you’ve been working on a special project, and in front of the bosses’ boss asks you how things are proceeding. Or, even, your 8-year-old son suddenly asks you about a sensitive news story he’s just heard on the television.

The best way to think about impromptu speaking is in terms of meta-preparation instead of preparation.

Two guides

Here are two “bumper sticker” reminders to keep at the ready when life tosses you an impromptu speaking opportunity.

  • Remember PREP. Andrew Dlugan, who produces the Six Minutes blog, wrote an article about How to Ace the Impromptu Speech. He suggested remembering a structure that will work for just about any topic: PREP, which stands for Point, Reason, Example, Point (again). Take a moment to think about the point you want to make. State it, give a reason to support it or to explain its importance, give an example (or a short story), then state your point again.
  • Steer the response. Learn a lesson from politicians: you don’t have to answer the question. I don’t mean say “no comment.” Just steer the answer toward the question you wanted instead of the one you got. “That’s a really interesting question about my favorite job. It reminds me of the very first job I had, which (although not my favorite) opened my eyes to my greatest lesson….”

Combine the two and you’ll never have to worry about impromptu speaking opportunities. In fact, you may come to relish them, as will your audience members who don’t have to suffer through an ineffective response.

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