How to Give BETTER Impromptu Speeches

By | January 12, 2017

How many of you have the same fear that I do? You know – you walk into the all-employee safety meeting and the boss is there, saying “I’m going to go over safety incidents this month and talk about the business a little, but first, BAM! KARAOKE FIGHT!”

Jukebox pops out of the wall, someone throws you a hot mic and the CEO shouts “Best of the 80s! Go!”

Anyone? No one? Huh.

Well, good. Because really, that’s not very likely to happen. What is more likely, though, is that you’re going to be called on to talk about a topic that you have not prepared for.

“Ashley, I like your idea to put reflective stickers on all the stairs in the mill. Let’s go to the management meeting right now and you can share your plan with them.”

“Tom, your life story inspires me. Won’t you stand up and give your testimony for the whole church?”

“Dad? What are the “birds and the bees?””

Yeah. The chances of being caught in need of a speech, and very little time to prepare for it is a lot higher than the chance of being caught in a Karaoke Fight.

Fortunately, I belong to Toastmasters, which really excels at teaching you how to prepare for any speech – even an impromptu one. Not only that, but I was specifically trained in how to give an impromptu speech by my Academic Decathlon coaches back in high school. You’ve got to have your introduction, three subpoints – because that’s what people will remember – and a conclusion. So I’m not going to teach you how to make an impromptu speech. I’m going to teach three simple things that you can do – in under a minute! – to make your extemporaneous speech… Better.

  1. Know your topic.
  2. Organize your thoughts.
  3. Hit them hard on the way in, and hit them hard on the way out.

Let me explain how these make you a better speaker.

1: Know your topic.

99% of the time, when someone asks you to speak at the spur of the moment, it’s because they have a belief that you are an authority on the topic they’ve picked. And most of the time, they were probably right for picking you, or else why would they have thought that at all? So it should be pretty easy to suss out if you know your topic well enough or not.

But what if you realize you don’t know the topic? It sounds painful to hear, but answer here is


Look, it’s important that you back away from speaking about things you can’t be an authority on. It’s just common sense.

“Jensen! What do you know about aborigine slavery in the 1870s?”

The correct answer here would be something like, “Not much, sir. If you want, I can take some time this week and do some research, and present it to the team on Friday.”

The wrong answer would be more like, “Well, I bought that album, “Diesel and Dust” back in the 80s. Ooh, and I saw Quigley Down Under, and that had a lot of aborigines.”

So know your topic. And if you don’t, stand brave, and have the courage to say so.

2: Organize your thoughts.

When you’re given a speech topic and only a minute or two to prepare, you’re going to get a huge number of bullet points flying through your head. The temptation might be, since you’re short on time, to just pick the first three you think of to go with. And this is often going to be a mistake.

If I ask Marilyn, “Can you explain to me why Hitler was such a bad guy? Why did everyone hate him?”

Marilyn’s going to get a lot of ideas jumbling around in her rolodex. Um, sorry, not in the 80s anymore. Up in the big google in her brain, and if she runs with “Hitler was a bad guy because he was a vegan, he didn’t drink alcohol, and he painted a lot.” – well, she did find three bullet points about Hitler, but they sure weren’t the most powerful, pertinent, or important facts on the list, were they?

You want to filter and sort your ideas – as quickly as you can – until three GOOD points percolate to the top.

Now, you know your topic, you’ve got three good points. It’s time to get aggressive.

3: Hit them hard on the way in. Hit them hard on the way out.

We’re talking about making the intro and the conclusion powerful.

You hit them hard on the way in – during the introduction – to make the audience pay attention. I started this speech off with an karaoke fight. Every person here immediately sat up and every brain said “This guy’s either going to blow my mind, or be utterly insane. Either way, I’m going to watch and find out.”

Turns out (for those of you evaluating whether my introduction was relevant to the topic), I introduced the idea of preparing and being ready for an unpreparable event – like a karaoke fight – and that got your mind ready to start thinking about preparing for another unpreparable event: the unexpected speech.

I hit you hard, then started dropping the knowledge.

Now as we approach the end, I’m getting ready to hit you hard on the way out. The hit on the way in is to make you pay attention. The hit on the way out is to make you remember.

In the movie Kingdom of Heaven, knight Liam Neeson is swearing in his young apprentice, Orlando Bloom. He tells him the oath of the Templars: Stand brave. Speak the truth, even if it means your death. Protect the helpless and do no evil.

“This is your oath,” he says. Then BAM! He backhands Orlando’s jaw and says “And that is so you remember it.” You want to hand them something that pops them like that. That makes them go “Wow.” They’ll be talking all day about what they learned. You hit them hard on the way in to get their attention. You hit them hard on the way out to make them remember it.

And that’s it. Three little things that can make a good impromptu speech a great impromptu speech. Know your topic. Organize your thoughts. Hit them hard on the way in and hit them hard on the way out. It’s like the fiver-finger-of-death punch.  Wielded well it is unstoppable. Intro, point one, point two, point three, conclusion. You’re never going to look at 5-point speechwriting the same way ever again.


And that is so you remember it.



This is post 6 out of 1000 for 2017. To see how I’m doing on this — and all my other goals — check out the Chaostician page!

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