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by Dr. Dilip Abayasekara, Ph.D., A.S. 


A good impromptu speech has the structure of a regular speech: an opening, a body, a conclusion, connectives, and supporting data or stories.  It is usually shorter than a prepared speech but it has the capacity to reveal more about the speaker because it is not rehearsed and allows for spontaneity.  For this reason, it can also be a great deal of fun.

The most important attribute for a speaker to excel in impromptu speaking is a “can do” state of mind.  When you have this attitude, you will release the natural ability of your mind to process the question and come up with a suitable response.  A positive state of mind will allow you to focus and be mentally agile, two vital skills for impromptu speaking success.

Here are the mechanics: six proven steps to follow to help you successfully compose and deliver an impromptu speech. 

  1. Listen.  Listen to what’s asked of you.  Listen to the words and the tone of voice.  Understand what is being asked of you before you even think of forming a response.  Is the question clear?  Is there a question behind the question?  Make it a priority to understand the question.
  1. Focus.  Bring your full concentration on to the question at hand.  For that moment, the most important challenge you face is choosing your response to the question.  So cause the brilliance of your intellect and spirit to bear on the topic.
  1. Buy Time/Don’t Rush to Respond.  Don’t feel compelled to blurt out a response!  People will wait when they sense that you are thinking about the question.  You can also buy yourself some precious seconds by slowly standing up, or walking up to the lectern.  The mind thinks extremely rapidly, at about 600-800 words per minute.  So get out of the way, and let your mind think!
  1. Pick a Theme for Your Response…or if you can’t think of a theme, begin to address the topic and free associate until you find a theme on which you’d like to expand.  Sometimes, a theme will come readily to your mind.  Then, you would simply introduce the topic, your view of it, and proceed to build your speech.  However, at other times, you may not have any idea how best to answer the question.  In such a case, address the topic, and as the words flow, keep your mind focused on the thoughts and concepts that arise in the flow.  You will “see” new relationships among ideas and concepts as you speak.  This will allow you to find an aspect of the topic in to which you can free associate and build your talk around.
  1. Build the Body of Your Speech.  Like any other speech, an impromptu speech should have an opening, a body, and a conclusion.  In step 4, you introduce your response.  In step 5, you build the body of your speech.  This is where you may give an example or two, tell a story, share facts and figures, and bolster your point of view.
  1. Conclude Confidently.  Wrap up your comments to solidify the clarity of your response.  If you shared information, you may want to give a summary of your main points.  If you were trying to persuade, you may want to appeal to the emotions in a powerful way, or conclude with a thought provoking question, or challenge the audience to take a specific action. 

    Note that the first three steps require you to listen, focus, and think.  The last three steps require you to speak, think, be mentally agile, and remain focused.  Try these steps.  As you gain confidence, you will not think of the mechanics, but simply flow in to the process and have fun with your mind!  


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