5 Tips on How to Be a Better Impromptu Speaker

When you walk into an interview or approach a group of people you don’t know, your body temperature typically goes up, giving you that rosy, flushed look that screams “Hey everybody I have no idea what to say!” Needless to say, that’s not good.

In a competitive job market that’s defined by equal parts of what you know AND how you present yourself, knowing how to speak off the cuff is extremely important. Even after you’ve made it through your interview and secured a job, there will be times when you’re forced to unexpectedly speak in front of an audience of your peers (or worse, potential customers). You don’t want to look like a goober if that happens. So just in case you weren’t born the gift of impromptu gab (and let’s face, most people aren’t), here are five surefire tips that will help you get over your fear of on-the-spot-unprepared-speaking-in-front-of-other-people syndrome.

  1. Keep Up on Current Events and Pop Culture
  2. One of the biggest reasons people are afraid to speak spontaneously is because they don’t know what to say. That’s where staying current on current events comes in. Being able to engage in a conversation about the latest news items or pop culture phenomenon is important when speaking spontaneously. Because guess what? These topics come up all the time in conversation so if you want to be a part of the conversation, then read Yahoo News, peruse People magazine, and watch the evening news at least three times a week. You never know when having an opinion on what Lady Gaga wore to the Grammys last night will be the ice breaker you need to join a key conversation.

  3. Don’t Over Think
  4. Too often people think they have to be witty or funny when speaking on the fly, and therefore end up trying too hard to be interesting—which unfortunately can come off as shallow. People can smell insincerity faster than deviled eggs that have sat out too long in the sun. When invited to publicly speak spontaneously, just be yourself (not the comedian you saw on Comedy Central last night). If you can’t tell a joke, then don’t open with one. People are interested in what you have to say, not necessarily how you say it.

  5. Don’t Rush In
  6. On the flipside, don’t let fly the first thing that pops into your head without it going through some sort of filter. If asked your opinion be honest, but think briefly about how to phrase it first. There are tricks to buy time without looking like a mute ninny. First, smile and take a deep breath. This makes you appear considerate, which you are. If you need more time, repeat the question or say something like, “That’s an interesting observation,” or “let me think about that for a second.” No one is going to fault you for taking a moment to get your thoughts in order. But don’t sit there too long saying nothing, because then it just gets weird.

  7. Keep a Warehouse of Topics
  8. Everyone has topics that they like to discuss; they could include a hobby, skill, or educational interest. Memorize some talking points about your favorite topics and keep them handy for when you’re asked to speak about your interests. You don’t have to memorize an entire speech, just some key, interesting points on those topics about which you actually know something. Taking that one step further, learn how to politely ease a lagging conversation into one of your “comfort topics” (but don’t be obvious or blunt about it). That way you can keep the group conversation going long enough to make a good impression.

  9. Practice When The Pressure’s Off
  10. It may sound dorky, but practice speaking alone, in front of a mirror. You’re going to feel stupid at first, but after you get over yourself, you’ll be able to assess your demeanor, body language, and the fact that you say “um” and “ah” too much. Once you’ve zeroed in on specific habits you’d like to break practice “spontaneous chatting” with a small group of close friends. Ask each other impromptu questions, answer them honestly, and request constructive feedback. Take each other seriously and don’t be a bunch of wise guys by making fun of each other. Even the smallest amount of small talk practice helps.

This video highlights the importance of learning to speak on your feet in the world of business:

Impromptu speaking is the bane of almost every businessperson’s existence. Unless you’re in sales, you probably don’t relish the idea of being the center of attention. If you’re really interested in improving your speaking skills consider joining a professional group like Toastmasters. Anything that gets you up talking in front of people gives you a definite advantage in your career. Because when you get the floor, you want to make sure every word counts.

Do you have a public speaking tip or an ice breaker that works for you? If so “speak up” and share it with us. We’d love to hear about your success.

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