Impromptu Speaking – From Pain to Pleasure

I delivered a speech on the subject of impromptu speaking (a.k.a. Table Topics in the world of Toastmasters) and my objective was to heighten audience awareness on the subject and provide them with information that empowered them to move from a painful experience to pleasurable one when invited to speak on an impromptu subject.
I pointed out that just like most things in life in order to fix the problem the first key was understanding the problem.  Although some may say that the problem is negative emotions and the physical response or lack of response that results because of emotions in my opinion based on experience the root of the problem lies elsewhere.  The truth is, the problem is rooted deeper, in the individual’s psychological make up and what is more often identified as either confidence or attitude both of which can be misguided and misdirected.  Psychological assessments will refer to measurable characteristics such as Social Boldness, Dominance and Assertiveness or Acceptance of Self and Others just to name a few.
Why do people struggle or panic when called upon to speak on the spot?  There are common reasons why this is so difficult for people for example:
  • They panic because they panic like any other habit it is a natural tendency and it causes them to draw a blank when they are asked to answer a question or offer their thoughts.
  • The are not mentally or physically ready to do so.
  • They are not sure what to say.
  • They are not sure how to begin.
  • They feel the heat of all eyes focused on them.
  • They have worries (insecurities, inhibitions etc.) about appearances.
So the question is how do you overcome the obstacles and challenges?  To begin with it takes an attitude adjustment the proverbial check up from the neck up.  If you are walking into any environment (like a Toastmaster Meeting) where you know will likely require some degree of participation from you then check your introvert at the door!  Put away your wish bone (stop wishing you won’t be asked) and get ready to use your backbone!  Mentally and physically protect yourself by taking preventative measures that eliminate the shock factor!  Change your internal dialogue from defensive mode to offensive mode and shift your mindset to a frame of reference that says I am here, it is on, and I am always ready!
Improve your outcomes by applying techniques.  When you leave things to chance you set yourself up for failure so learn how to take control and slow things down.  Leverage methods that will help you buy some time to think and process the question or topic at hand.  Shift from a panicked response to a polished, poised and professional response that exudes brilliance.  Understand that most people are self absorbed in worrying about themselves so stop worrying about what other people think about you and focus on yourself.  (At a Toastmaster Meeting you are in a safe and friendly environment where people want you to succeed and they are cheering for you to win, once you fully comprehend this you should be able to accelerate beyond your impromptu speaking challenges at lightening speed!)
There are many techniques leveraged by people who are never at a loss for words and able to magically respond in an impromptu manner on a dime such as:
  • In a formal setting they will begin by addressing their audience with a formal greeting (Mr. Topic Master, Fellow Toastmasters and Guests).
  • They will repeat or paraphrase the question for clarification and also to buy thinking time.
  • They will thank the person (a.k.a. the Topic Master) for the question or the opportunity to offer their opinion, advice, ideas or story.
  • They will compliment the person on their thought provoking question.
  • They will say the opposite of what their natural instincts want to say!  (Think of anything that a person says when they wish they hadn’t been asked or they don’t feel they have anything of value to offer and instead say the exact opposite.)
  • They will deliver a mini speech that has a distinct opening, body and close.
In addition to the techniques listed above the gifted impromptu speaker gives themselves an unfair advantage so that they are less likely to be caught off guard.  They simply think ahead (plan ahead and even research ahead) of the event, occasion or meeting and always have something in their back pocket.  For instance if you are going to a Toastmaster meeting always know ahead of time what the theme of the meeting is because it is a known fact that Table Topics are usually connected to the theme.  If you are going to a professional event think of the people who will be in attendance and what their interests and preferences are.  You can often impress people by starting off with a quote, a joke, a relevant fact or a statistic.  Referencing information from a newsletter, web site, magazine or a book is an excellent way of sounding intelligent, worldly and worthy of listening to.  Have a true story or a tale in mind that helps you make a point or entertain depending on what is suitable for the occasion.  Use knowledge that is top of mind such as personal or professional current events.  Engage your creative brain preview movies of the mind (your imagination) and get comfortable leveraging this often untapped resource.  Expose yourself to more information by reading, listening and learning more because the interested people in life are always more inclined to listen to the interesting people in life.
Remember the rules of impromptu speaking. If you have a perfect answer then by all means use it!  If you don’t then any response that has some substance to it is better than no response or a lame one.  If you are in a Table Topics session at Toastmasters then not only are you called upon to engage your creative brain and let loose you are given free reign because your objective is to liberate yourself from the bondage of fear!  You actually have permission to be audacious, outrageous and totally off the reservation!  Stop sitting on the sidelines and hoping you will get over your inhibitions, dive in more often, get more experience!  When it is allowed, have fun, be silly and adventurous!
Where can you draw upon sources for content?  The answer isn’t that complicated, use your experiences, or leverage information that you read, saw or were told.  Engage your imagination or reference third party information.  Give yourself more credit and the permission necessary to break free from the bondage of shyness and your introverted ways!  As long as you aren’t a hermit, a mute or the most boring person ever born you have something to share!  The more comfortable you become the more you will enjoy the outcomes and the more you will hunger for knowledge that improves your impromptu speaking abilities.
When you get down to the bare facts, no one but you controls your outcomes.  Ultimately the only person who can help you is you!  Think about this quote by William James (Psychologist), “We are more likely to act our way into feeling than feel our way into acting.”  Stop waiting for it to feel right.  When you change your thinking, you will change your actions and ultimately you will change your results!  You can master the art of impromptu speaking and it starts by arming yourself so that you can move from pain to pleasure!
For more information, watch this video:
MarshaMarshallll Northcott, Division G Governor, Founder’s District
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