Off-the-cuff speech? It's easier than you think

score Question:
I'm asked to speak at functions, sometimes on very short notice. This forces me to decline or not do a good job - neither option I like. I can do all right if given sufficient time to prepare. How would you go about solving this dilemma?

Let's say you're at a business gathering when suddenly, with no advanced notice, you're asked to make an impromptu speech or presenation. You know that your audience will expect to hear something informative, entertaining and coherent. You panic and think "I can't do that."

Wrong. You can.

Keep in mind that whoever put you on such short notice doesn't expect the State of the Union addtess. Three or four minutes will do nicely? Here are a few ideas:

  • Select a one-sentence though, an idea or theme. It can be as simple as a quotation or proverb, such as "a stitch in time saves nine," or a personal experience that's close to the meeting topic.
  • If there are other speakers, you can use an idea that was presented in their talk and add your comments. How about something that happended on the way to the meeting?
  • Organize your thought or idea into a pattern. There are many ways to do that, such as time [past, present, future], topic [two reasons why we should...], or pro/con [the lottery is good or bad because...].
  • Support your points with examples, personal illustrations, comparisons, statistics, facts and definitions. Remember, vague, general statements will not keep the audience's attention.
  • Create a short opening for your talk, consisting of an attention-getter, and a preview of main points. such as "How many of you play the lottery at least once every week?" Or a personal statement: "I was shocked when I added up all the $1 and $5 lottery tickets I bought last year and realized I gambled away nearly $1,000."
  • Limit the attention-getter to two or three sentences. Rather than introducing yourself, pause briefly and preview your two or three main points, such as "Now I'm going to tell you about the myths and facts of the lottery."
  • Create a short closing, including a one-sentence review of your main points and final thoughts.
  • Keep it short. Think about all the 30- and 60-second commercials you see and hear every day. If advertisers are able to get their ideas across in so little time, you can certainly do it in two or three minutes.
  • Show authority and credibility. Make eye contact with the audience and raise your voice a little.
  • Keep it interesting with colorful and descriptive language. Pretend you're painting mental images for a blind audience.
  • Think positive. Walk to the podium slowly as you organize your thoughts. Pause between each section of your talk and whenever you want to emphasize a point. Keep your voice, body movements, gestures and facial expressions natural and relaxed.
  • Maintain a healthy perspective on the situation. It's not a big deal. Good luck with your next impromptu speech.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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