Did you know that the most memorable part of one of the most famous speeches in history was not part of the script?
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he had a planned speech in front of him. As he stuck to the script, Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer, shouted to him to use his line about his “dream,” which came from a speech he had given before. King proceeded to give his “I Have a Dream” speech from memory. This impromptu speech was filled with emotion and excited the crowd more than his planned remarks. The speech stands to this day as an unforgettable call to action.
An impromptu speech can feel intimidating. After all, you’ve probably heard that you need to prepare well in advance to give an effective speech. But in truth, a short speech that you give directly from your heart can reach your audience and stir them to action.
While it’s normal to feel that intimidation when called to give impromptu speeches, this article will go beyond defining “what is an impromptu speech.” It will teach you how to make your next impromptu speech your very best.
How to Give an Impromptu Speech
An impromptu speech is a public address that the speaker hasn’t planned on giving beforehand. As such, it can be an intimidating prospect, especially for those who feel they lack public speaking and communication skills. Impromptu speaking means you didn’t prepare for the moment, meaning you have to do everything on the fly. Even with experience, you’re not always guaranteed a successful speech. It truly is one of the most difficult public speaking skills to master.
Don’t think of impromptu speaking as a burden. Think of it as a chance to grow and learn. Public speaking may not be your strong suit, but this opportunity can be positive if you know what to do. If you still feel overwhelmed, try the following tips for an impromptu speech.
- Talk about experiences from your life.
- Keep the speech short and don’t take up too much time.
- Start with a story.
- Make eye contact with portions of the audience, not individual people. Do this by dividing the audience into halves or quarters.
- Don’t tell the audience you were asked to give an impromptu speech. This automatically lowers audience expectations.
- Be mindful of your expressions.
- Keep from fidgeting. Holding a small object like a pen can help with this.
- Speak clearly. People can tell if you try to rush through things.
Impromptu Speech Topics
Impromptu speaking topics range from celebratory to somber. As seen below, there are a wide variety of situations that might call for a person to speak on an impromptu speech topic at the drop of a dime.
- Recognizing a person or team for their hard work on a project
- Congratulating an employee on a promotion
- Discussing your vision for the future
- Communicating a pivot or change the business will be making
- Informally announcing your resignation or retirement
- Celebrating work anniversaries, such as the business being open for five years
- Wishing a team member the best as they part ways with the business
- Introducing a new product or service
- Kicking off a company event or conference
An Impromptu Speech Example
You may find yourself at a business dinner party one day where you get asked to speak from personal experience out of nowhere. You have ten minutes or so to talk on a topic and share your thoughts.
First, understand that the stakes are fairly low in this type of setting. You don’t need to stress over what to say, but that’s not an excuse to ramble on about whatever comes to mind. That would be an impromptu speaking failure.
While you may know how to be confident, start putting together a loose strategy to prepare what you’ll talk about. There are many impromptu speech examples to choose from, but the following framework can help when you’re in a pinch or your public speaking experience is limited.
- Intro (1-2 minutes): Start out with a story, preferably something that happened to you or one that you heard recently.
- Point 1 (2-3 minutes): Make sure your story transitions into your first point.
- Point 2 (2-3 minutes): Create a smooth transition from the first point to the second.
- Closer (30-60 seconds): Finish your speech with a final call to action. This should be the one thing that sticks with the audience after you’ve finished.
The Advantages of an Impromptu Speech
Even if you’re still nervous about giving an impromptu speech on a specific topic, there are several advantages you should know about. As mentioned above, people are generally forgiving when it comes to spur-of-the-moment speeches derived from personal experience. You don’t have to worry about being overly eloquent or super organized. As long as you practice charismatic leadership, you’ll have their attention all the same.
With an impromptu speech, you have a chance to show a vulnerable and genuine side. This tends to be a more effective approach than being flashy. It all comes down to substance and not style.
Best of all, you’re likely already an expert on the topic, so there isn’t a huge need for a lot of preparation. Lean into what you know, and use your expertise to back up your words during any impromptu speaking engagement. While it may be true that people have heard what you want to say before, that doesn’t mean they’ve heard you say it.
If you remember only one thing, then remember this: When next you give an impromptu speech, pick one story to share at a time. That story should illustrate your core values and who you are as a person.
Your story should indicate what drives you and motivates your decision-making. Over time, you can refine that story until you’re ready to share it at a moment’s notice. In that way, you can be sure your impromptu speech will leave a lasting impact.
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