Top 10 Tips for Speakers #8 – “And now let’s hear a few words” (without warning)

speak to colleaguesSo far we’ve talked about how to prepare a presentation, and how to structure your speech, and what to include, and how to deliver it.

But all of that assumes you have some time to prepare.

What about when you are asked to speak without any notice?

Scary thought, huh?

Well, there are any number of reasons that you might be called upon to speak without notice – especially once you start to get a reputation as a halfway decent speaker.

But if you examine WHY you are being asked to speak, it suddenly doesn’t seem so scary.

The most common scenarios include:

  • The boss asks you to update your colleagues on a development that you’ve been involved in,
  • At a social event you are called on to ‘say a few words’ because you know the guest-of-honor,
  • The scheduled presenter at a function can’t make it (or completely misses what they were supposed to address) and you want to make sure the key information is passed on.

The WHY for each of those is that YOU are the expert.

You know the details (or at least some of them).

You have the knowledge required to inform your peers, or the background to praise the guest.

And here’s something that’s worth thinking about: nobody WANTS you to fail.

The boss wouldn’t ask you, if she didn’t think you could do it.

The party host thinks highly enough of you to ask you to step in.

Don’t second-guess yourself – if THEY think you can do it, why disagree? 🙂

Matt Abrahams is a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer in organisational behaviour – and he put it well when he said “These in-the-moment speaking situations are ones that afford you opportunities. So when you are at a corporate dinner and your boss turns to you and says, “You know our guest better than the rest of us. Would you mind introducing her?” you say, “Great, thank you for the opportunity,” rather than, “Oh no! I better get this right.” (

But now, lets look at some SPECIFICS

First, remember the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Don’t try to present an award-winning speech, when asked to speak ‘off the cuff’

Again, as Matt Abrahams says, “Rather than striving for greatness, challenge yourself to just accomplish the task at hand — answer the question, provide the feedback, introduce your colleague. By reducing the pressure you put on yourself, you will increase the likelihood of doing well. Simply put: Setting greatness as your goal gets in the way of you ever getting there.”

Second, always have a strategy in your back pocket.

One of the easiest ways to make an impromptu presentation is to use the past-present-future model …”This is what happened with our product design in the past – the result has been that we have reached a crossroads and our customers no longer find our products attractive – This is what the project team has decided we will do in the future”

Another strategy is to Use the ‘Problem – Solution – Action’ model. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow (in ‘Learn from the Masters’) but in short, you begin your presentation by outlining the problem, addressing the solution, and calling for action. If you keep that structure in the back of your mind, then you’ll find that many impromptu speaking occasions fall neatly into this style of delivery.

Another strategy that you may hear about is the Get FAT method … the FAT stands for

  • Feeling (how you feel about an issue / person)
  • Anecdote (tell a story – from your life, or that of the guest of honor, for example)
  • Tie-back (Link that story back to your main topic)

Finally, I’m reminded of the corny old joke where a young man stops an older musician on the streets of New York and says “How do I get to Carnegie Hall” – to which the older gent replies “Practice, son, Practice!”

Practicing impromptu speaking is one of the best ways of developing the skill.

Obviously, I’m going to suggest something like Toastmasters (where every meeting has an impromptu speaking session) – or hiring a public speaking coach – but you can also practice on your own.

Just imagine the sort of topic that might come up at work, or in your social group – and ‘Practice, son, Practice!”

Tomorrow, Learning from the Pro’s.

One thought on “Top 10 Tips for Speakers #8 – “And now let’s hear a few words” (without warning)

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Tips for Speakers #10 – Putting it all together | Cairns Communications

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s