Impromptu speaking in front of an audience is challenging for most of us. Even the famous author and public speaker, Mark Twain, has been quoted as saying “I never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.”

If you struggle with scattered thoughts, or mind blank when impromptu speaking, then this blog post will help you.

In this blog post, you’ll learn some techniques to structure your speech when you’re on the spot, and some ways to quickly generate ideas when your mind goes blank.

At my local Toastmasters club, we regularly perform an activity called Table Topics, where members of the audience are individually invited up to perform a two minute impromptu speech.

How to structure an impromptu speech

One of the risks of an impromptu speech is to ramble.

If at all possible, in order to avoid rambling in an impromptu speech, quickly prepare a draft outline of your speech before it’s your turn to speak. This will help your mind relax, so you can work on the delivery, rather than trying to think about what to say, or structure your speech on the fly.

When delivering an impromptu speech, consider speaking to a formula.

Speaking to a formula means that you have a set speech structure in mind (such as the three T’s example below), which will help organise your thoughts into a structure that you’re mind is already familiar with, to make it much easier for you to deliver a coherent speech, which is easy for the audience to follow.

Here are some formulas that you can use when structuring your speech:

The three T’s

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you’ve told them

PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point)

The PREP structure has four key parts:

  1. Point - Start off by making a clear point about the subject you’re speaking about
  2. Reason - Describe your reason for that particular point
  3. Example - Give a few examples to illustrate
  4. Point - Finish with some concluding remarks to wrap up your story

Pros, Cons, Recommendation

This method is also called “The positives and negatives method”

  1. Pros - Start off your speech by describing the pros first
  2. Cons - Describe the cons
  3. Recommendation - Wrap up with your recommendation

STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result)

This method is sometimes called the “CAR” method (Challenge, Action, Result)

This is a good communication strategy during an interview.

  1. Situation - Describe the situation that you were in
  2. Task - Describe the task that you completed
  3. Action - Describe the specific actions that you took to complete the task
  4. Result - Conclude by describing the result that was achieved by taking the actions

Structuring a longer impromptu speech

When delivering a longer impromptu speech, feel free to use several of the formulas above to extend your speaking time.

For example, you could use the three T’s of:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you’ve told them

During the second step, where you tell them, you may string together several stories, following any one of the public speaking formulas above.

Finally, you may sum up your speech during the third phase with a quick recap of the stories that you’ve told the audience about.

In an event of a personal nature, such as a wedding or engagement party, your impromptu speech structure may look more like the following:

  1. Intro
  2. Share some personal stories using any of the public speaking formulas above.
  3. Engage the audience with a Q&A to extend the speaking time further
  4. Close off the speech with some concluding remarks

How to practice impromptu speaking

Like all skills, the best way to improve at impromptu speaking is by practicing effectively.

Record your practice speeches

When practicing at home, record the delivery of your impromptu speeches from beginning to end. An audio recording will be sufficient, but a video recording is even better. Many times, you won’t realise the public speaking faux pas that you’re making such as:

  • Saying “like”, “um”, and “ah”
  • The way you move (or don’t move) your body, such as clasping your hands, standing rigidly, or fidgeting nervously
  • Not breathing enough, sounding like you’re holding our breath, or breathing too much, sounding like you’re hyperventilating

After recording your speech, watch, or listen to it from beginning to end, and take notes on how you could make it better.

When reviewing your speech, ask yourself:

  1. How do I think I did?
  2. Are there some areas that I could have improved?
  3. Does my body seem stiff?
  4. Do I make odd facial expressions, or movements?
  5. Do I use filler words such as “um”, “ah”, “so”, etc?
  6. How was my speaking rhythm?

Join your local Toastmasters club

Joining a Toastmasters club is a great way to meet others that are interested in improving their impromptu speaking skills.

Toastmasters International has a Toastmasters Club Finder website which you can use to search for a club in your area.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you found this post useful. Do you have any questions? Are there any follow-up blog posts you’d like me to write relating to this? Feel free to leave any feedback in the comments below.