5 Tips to Speak Extemporaneously

Posted on

Extemporaneous speaking may sound difficult and scary, but it’s easier than you think. Known also as “off the cuff” or “impromptu” speaking, this is a skill that you already use without realizing it! If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, gone on a date, or have been asked for your opinion in a meeting, you’ve spoken extemporaneously. How can you improve your confidence and ability to speak on the fly? Try the following 5 tips:

#1: Don’t Panic

It’s true that the number one fear of humans is public speaking – yes, above spiders and even death. Hopefully you’ll never find yourself on a stage full of poisonous spiders, but if it feels like you are whenever someone asks you a question, then you would benefit from some visualization and breathing.

If you’re put on the spot out of the blue, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your opinion must matter, or you wouldn’t be there. Visualize yourself as a calm, eloquent person, then begin speaking.

If you’re heading to a situation where you know you’ll have to speak at some point, then do your homework. What topics will come up? What do you already know? What questions can you ask in return? Being prepared goes a long way to building confidence.

Before a job interview, date, or social event, give yourself some time for a little pep talk. Get there early and head to the bathroom. Do a hair, teeth, and outfit check. Then, take a deep breath, look at yourself in the mirror, and say something like, “You’ve got this!” Stand up straight, square your shoulders, and smile. You’ve got this.

#2: Listen

It seems counterintuitive, but listening is your best conversational and interviewing skill. Listen first, think second, talk last. If you are busy formulating what you will say next as the other person is speaking, you will often miss the point of the question or something important that the other person has addressed. Many embarrassing and unfortunate misunderstandings come of replying to a question not asked.

If the question is unclear or you aren’t sure what they want you to say, ask! You can restate the question by saying something like, “If I understand what you’re asking, you mean… ” or simply ask some clarifying questions to make sure you’re answering the right thing.

Once you know what the other person is asking, answer ONLY that question. You may or may not need to elaborate, but let that person lead you. This will prevent you from babbling or oversharing.

#3: Change the Game

It does happen sometimes: You are asked to speak on a subject you know nothing about. Rather than let everyone know that you’re on the spot, reframe the question or topic into something that you do know. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. There is always an element of something you do know in any situation or question. When the spotlight is on you, speak only on what you have experience in. Tell a story or joke that relates to the topic, no matter how loosely (but don’t go total non sequitur, or your audience will think you weren’t listening). Then, ask a question to fill in the blanks and go back to listening.

#4: Use the Rule of Three

It works in comedy, it works it drama, it can work for you. Even if you have a short time to organize your thoughts before you must speak, use the rule of three. Three points, three items, three bullets – whatever form it takes, never go over the magic, golden number of three. Any more, and you’ll find yourself losing your place.

Use your fingers to help you remember what the three points are that you want to cover. Make a mental note of which finger represents which point, then use them as 1-2-3 or A-B-C as you speak on each subject like a pro.

#5: Practice!

Just like riding a bike or learning to tie your shoes, speaking extemporaneously about any subject will seem difficult at first, but you will find that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. There are many places and ways that you can practice your impromptu speaking skills in a supportive environment. Some suggestions:

  • Visit a Toastmasters club for the best tips, tricks, and a listening workout (no, it’s not all about giving speeches). The beauty about this organization is that you get immediate feedback.
  • Volunteer to answer questions or offer suggestions at your next business meeting
  • Offer to do the prayers or announcements at your religious organization
  • Join an improvisational class, book club, or charity
  • Play social games such as Balderdash or Trivial Pursuit with friends and family
  • Small talk with your coworkers

These 5 points will take you from terrified to talkative, but only if you use them. Remember, your voice matters, or else you wouldn’t have been asked to speak in the first place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.