how to give an impromptu speech

How to Deliver an Impromptu Speech: A Comprehensive Guide

It was in eighth grade when I gave my first impromptu speech. Being an introvert, delivering a well-rehearsed speech was itself a big deal, let alone an impromptu one.

It was during one of the monthly events in school where we were seated and waiting for the chief guest to arrive. To fill the gap and to keep the audience engaged, the volunteers called out names at random who were supposed to talk about any topic.

My cortisol and adrenaline levels were at its peak when they called out my name. It was more of a ‘say something, and get embarrassed’ or ‘stay quiet and get embarrassed’ situation.

Since either way, the outcome was to ‘get embarrassed,’ I went with the former, and till today, my friends make fun of me. But, it was a much needed push to not be afraid of going on stage. Since then, I tried to learn more about giving speeches on the spot so I could save myself from so-called embarrassing moments!

So, let me save you from such a situation and help you deliver an exceptional impromptu speech. I understand it’s challenging if you’re like me, but hey, it’s the baby steps that matter the most. So, read on to find out more about it.

What Exactly is an Impromptu Speech?

An impromptu speech is a speech delivered with zero preparation. It can be at an office meeting, job interview, or an event. One needs to be vigilant and mentally prepared at all times when it comes to giving an impromptu speech.

Imagine this. You’re at your colleague’s dinner party on a Friday evening. While trying to get ‘in the mood,’ your pal suddenly calls you to come on stage and talk about the evening.

It’s untimely, and you’re unprepared. But, you must present the best version of yourself at the moment. Now, that’s what is called an impromptu speech.

If you’re the type who does not like social interaction or fears being on stage, then delivering an impromptu speech might be quite challenging.

Scenarios Where You Might be Asked to Give an Impromptu Speech

  • When you’re at an art exhibition, a reporter might come up to interview you.
  • You might be asked to talk about your friend or colleague during a send-off.
  • If you’re attending any conference or talks, you get questioned about the event/topic.
  • Business meetings are a commonplace where you’re interrogated about your ideas or updates on the project unexpectedly.
  • During events, the speaker might choose you to come on stage and demonstrate or talk about anything.
  • Dinner parties are a common place where you might have to speak about if the person hosting is close to you.
  • College farewells and events are also where you might have to speak on-spot.
  • If you’re interning at an organization, you can be called upon stage anytime to share your experience. It can also be while bidding adieu without prior notice.
  • Job interviews are also one of the places where your wit is tested. No matter the amount of preparation, you get asked bizarre questions.

7 Tips to Deliver a Captivating Impromptu Speech

impromptu speeches can be difficult

1. Understand That You Only Need to Talk About Your Experiences

When someone gives us a topic, we prepare, rehearse it till the last minute and present it at one go. But, in an impromptu speech, you’re not given a topic that you will not know.

The prime focus of the subject will be either you or your surroundings. If you think about it, this is more straightforward.

It can be about your journey with your colleagues, your company’s latest product, or about your best friend. These are always easy to interpret.  

Well, If you think about it, impromptu speaking has been a part of our everyday lives unknowingly. When you meet a stranger at a cafe or when you head to a nearby store, it is impromptu.

You might be asked to speak on random topics like “Why should one not be a part of the rat-race,” or “Why is it ideal to embrace adversities?” Though these are just examples to give you an overview, you might be asked to speak on any topic under the sun. It all depends on where you are.

2. Learn to Describe What You See Around

We commute to different places in a day, and we see plenty of things happening around. If your friend tells you to describe that cute guy/girl you met on the metro ride, you would go on and on about him/her.

But, if you’re asked to describe a pretty vase on your table, you end it in a few seconds. Learning to describe is an art.

More than describing, it’s about building strong opinions for issues that concern us. Let’s say, the topic is “Your take on mental health.” Though this is a pretty general topic, it’s about your perspective on that particular topic. The upsides and downsides of the issue, the why and what of it. Forming opinions and describing it with actual facts adds a lot of credibility to your speech.

Once you master it, it’ll be easy for you to deliver any speech. If you’re an introvert, you might be well-versed at playing with words on a blank white sheet, but practicing the same by talking can help you with presenting better.

Be a keen observer, try to watch the details. The more you observe, the better you will be able to relate your personal story to the facts, and your audience will love it when your speech is relatable and not generalized.

3. Organize Your Thoughts

I have this problem where a bunch of things will be going on in my mind simultaneously. It’s complete chaos where I end up speaking irrelevant things.

So especially if you’re new to going on stage unprepared, then more than making points, you might start worrying about what others might think of you.

I’ve gone through that, my face would be as red as a tomato and I completely screw up the speech as my voice would stutter and show that I’m obviously nervous.

So, it’s essential to organize your thoughts and prioritize the ones that you want to talk about first.  Also, an impromptu speech is a short speech, so even if you have plenty of things in your mind, filter them and say the best ones. It should be short, engaging, and the audience should resonate with what you say.

Example:

A basic strategy is to ask yourself the 5 W’s and H questions when you’re called on stage. Taking the example of “Is it ideal to embrace adversities?” well, you start by asking yourself why is it ideal, how can one overcome, what is the best way to deal with it, and so on.

You can start your speech by speaking about the time when YOU experienced such a situation in your life, move on to tell about how it affected you internally, and finally the ways you overcame your adversity. Conclude by going back to the topic and answering it.

Here, the audience is able to relate to your personal story and also motivate them in the end. This way, you can deliver your impromptu speech more effectively and without much effort. You never know, you might surprise yourself in the end.

4. Try and be as Candid as Possible

Now that you’ve learned to describe things, describing your experiences should be easy.  As mentioned above, though describing the lowest point in your life may not be easy, you can add characters to it and speak as a different story.

When someone asks you to deliver an impromptu speech, go straight up to the stage (this is the time to recollect every possible thing) and express what you feel at that very moment.

If it’s about your colleague or mentor, you can start by speaking about one of the most cherished moments with them, what qualities you liked and learned from them, and how they brought in a positive change in your life.

I’ve seen people who try to be extra formal but end up ruining their speech or make it boring. Just breathe and talk your heart out. No amount of preparation can beat the candid speech ever. It’s the one that comes from your soul, and the one, that touches the audience’s heart.

5. Go with the Flow and be Light-hearted

If you’re a newbie, your first few speeches will not be the way you expect it to be. If you want to be the best version of you, then you need to face complicated situations.

Well, not all the time, but if you land in such a position, embrace it. Never let that consume you. You’re not stooping low and disrespecting yourself, you’re saving yourself from intensifying the situation. It shows you’re confident enough too. 

I bet, even the best speaker would have been through an embarrassing situation at least once.

6. Set a Brand for Yourself

It was during one of my first few speeches in school where I tried imitating the hand gestures similar to that of my classmate. It was so obvious, and also, it did not go well with my personality. So, never do that.

If you’ve watched TEDx Talks, you might have observed that every individual has a unique way of conveying their story to the audience, whether it’s the tone or the body language.

Thus, be comfortable with yourself and your body. You will see the results for yourself. An impromptu speech judges who you are. It’s those few minutes that shows the world who you are. Give your best shot no matter what.

7. It’s Okay to Screw Up in an Impromptu Speech

You might forget your topic while on stage, or you might end up being blank in between your speech. That’s totally alright. It’s a matter of time and everyone would have gone through the same phase.

Learn from it and avoid making that mistake the next time. Maybe even your fifth speech might not be good, but your tenth or twelfth speech will definitely be better than your previous speeches and no one can stop you from there.

Remember, it’s okay to screw up and it’s okay to be reckless. In the end, you will be happy to have that experience. Here’s former NFL player, Bo Eason, telling his students why being reckless is actually a good thing: 

Impromptu Speech Outline

Like any other speech, an impromptu speech has the same structure: the introduction, the body and the conclusion.

Introduction

There are many ways you can start during an impromptu speech. Like always, the introduction should be captivating. 

Gone are the days where the usual “Hello Everyone, I’m ABC and so on” was the norm for starting a speech. It gives the impression that your speech will be boring right from the beginning. 

  • One way is by sharing a quick personal story. You can start this way, “I remember the time when I was in a similar situation…”
  • Another way is to ask questions. You get enough time to recall notable points. Questioning your audience can buy you extra time if you do not remember right away. (Keep in mind that you do not make majority speech a question-answer session. You’re out there to speak, not to make the audience speak).
  • Also, knowing your audience and the time of the presentation is equally important. It can be at an NGO, a corporate place, or even a party. Start your speech accordingly. Knowing your audience can help you be a lot more contextual.

Thus, start with a relatable quote or come up with one. Share a story that is relatable to all. Your introduction is a gateway to you as an individual. Keep it simple yet effective.

Related Article: 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own)

Body

Now since an impromptu speech is only for a couple of minutes, you need not rush to conclude your speech. Honestly, I even dread to talk continuously for 2 minutes, so a couple of minutes on stage is a big deal for me. Breathing helps to calm my nerves. I remind myself to live in the moment and continue my story.

Example:

  • If you’re speaking on “Mental Health,” make 3 to 4 informative points like when did you realize mental health is important, how important is it to focus on our overall well-being, in what way does it affect our day-to-day lives, why is there a stigma around it, how can everyone join as a community and offer help, and so on.

If you have gone through any mental health issues, you can share your story and deliver the speech. You can also talk about personal experiences.

  • If it’s a light topic, go on about the details of it, what made you despise or love that phase of life, relate it with the current topic, add facts, quotes, references from movies, or stories if you remember that very moment.

The body of the speech should be informative and engaging. Try not to make it too long. Keep it to the point with all the details included.

Conclusion

The conclusion is as essential as your introduction. Maybe a little more valuable as your audience will remember your conclusion more than anything. You can either make a gist of your speech and stress on the important points in the end or end it by speaking something that is motivating and inspirational.

Example:

  • If it’s on Mental Health, you can probably end it by saying “Let’s push the pause button and not be too busy to not care about the one’s next to us. The least we could do is to ask ‘How are you? Are you OK?’ to the people around us. You never know, it might make a huge difference and bring positivity and hope among everyone.”
  • If it’s a wedding party, be energetic and lively. You can simply end by congratulating the couples and telling the audience to enjoy the evening.
  • If it’s business-related, you can end it with a ‘success’ quote or something compelling enough that is contextual to a business setting.

Keep your speech short, crisp, and sweet.

Related article: 5 Ways to End Your Speech With Maximum Impact!

I came across this video and loved every bit of the impromptu speech. The speaker starts with a story as an example, relates it to our lives, and explains why we should live like the character in the story ending on a positive note with a great message.

How to be Better Prepared for Impromptu Speeches

“The very best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance.” 

Ruth Gordon

Though an impromptu speech is delivered straight away without preparation, if you practice for a couple of minutes every day, you will definitely nail it. Here are some of the ways to improve your impromptu skills and gain confidence by speaking on-spot on a daily basis. It will help you think fast and deliver your thoughts effectively.

1. Practice at Home With Your Family

 The best way to deliver an impromptu speech is to practice more. Ask your family members to give you a topic on-spot every day. It can be a short 5 min session where you practice one topic or one-hour session where each family member takes turns and speaks on any given topic. A perfect bonding moment as well. Once you develop the confidence to speak in front of your family members, you will be much more comfortable speaking in front of strangers. 

2. Call a Friend

You can call your friends and play pick-and-speak. It will definitely be fun and everyone can improve their impromptu skills. It’s always entertaining with friends when they come up with cool topics.

Call your friend up and give her a topic. Let her speak on the topic for a minute or two. After she’s done, switch your roles and allow her to give you a topic. Once you both are done speaking, evaluate each other and give feedback on how you can improve each other’s speeches.

This is a short, effective and fun way of practicing and gives you a buddy to practice and track your progress with.

3. Attending Toastmasters

You can join a Toastmaster’s club near as they help you in improving your speaking skills. You meet like-minded people, and here, you are supposed to pick a topic and present it in front of the members under the Table Topics section. It’s a perfect opportunity to improve your impromptu skills.

Here is another video where a member of a Toastmaster club speaks on a Table Topic. The flow of the speech is natural, and she presents it with grace and autheticty, which is laudable.

Related Article: How to Best Perform the Role of Table Topics Master in a Toastmasters Meeting?

4. Attend an Event or Volunteer at Your Neighborhood 

You can also volunteer at NGO’s and take part in conducting campaigns, reaching out to people, and hosting events. It boosts your self-confidence and gives you a chance to host events or speak on stage at certain occasions. 

Impromptu Speech Delivery

Here are a couple of things you need to keep in mind to be prepared for delivering a speech. Even though you cannot prepare for the topic, you can prepare yourself for any topic.

Read, Read and Read a Lot

Now that you know that an impromptu speech is unplanned, it’s a test to your knowledge. Though you will be sharing personal experiences, the more you add quotes and facts, the better your speech. So, it’s essential to read a lot. Pick up any book, newspaper, or magazines every day and read. Make notes on points you could connect, or the ones that you feel would help you in your speeches.

Work on Your Body Language

When it comes to body language, it’s okay to not be comfortable in your first few speeches. But come home and practice it in front of the mirror. Make sure to not repeat the same mistakes again. A few basic rules to remember are to not keep moving around too much or standing completely still, to not cross your hands, keeping it authentic, etc.

Realted article: Body Language Guide to Public Speaking (The Do’s & Don’ts)

Practice Voice Modulation

voice modulation in an impromptu speech

When you’re anxious, you might want to get done with your speech so end up speaking in a monotonous tone. Voice modulation is essential while delivering a speech. Another crucial thing is while describing your experiences, try to bring in various tones rather than being monotonous. Explain how a mother narrates a story to her child.

Read aloud at home, narrate a story to kids, or record your speech and listen to it repeatedly. Find out where you’re going wrong. Recording your voice will help you understand the areas where you need to work more.

Related Article: The Incredible Impact of Video Recording Yourself While Practicing a Speech

Related article: All You Need to Know about Voice Modulation & Tonality for Public Speaking

Impromptu Speech Topic Examples

  1. Do you think self-love should be given more priority than any other form of love?
  2. Does engaging in journaling ensure productivity?
  3. Why is there a stigma around mental health? What should be done to spread awareness?
  4. Why should one not be indecisive in life?
  5. Is it true that if a person masters one skill, he is capable of mastering every other skill?
  6. Why is it essential to obtain physio-mental stability for everyone?
  7. Is it ideal to follow your passion even after knowing the rapid changes happening in the world?
  8. What is the most significant thing in life to succeed: persistence or hard work?
  9. Should one always go with the flow in life?
  10. What should one do to find one’s true potential at the earliest?

Impromptu Speech Online Course

While I encourage you to practice impromptu speaking by yourself, sometimes, a little help can go a long way. 

If you want to learn impromptu speaking in a more structured format, check out this course by Shola Kaye on Udemy:

Public Speaking Success: IMPROMPTU public speaking

The course is quite handy when it comes to understanding impromptu speaking at deeper level. I personally like this course for two reasons:

  • The instructor makes you practice impromptu speaking within the course framework itself. So you’re practicing AND learning, not just learning
  • You get familiarised with various impromptu speech topics and scenarios. This helped be more sensitized to different topics and situations I could face where I would have to rely on impromptu speaking

I really like the instructor, Shola Kaye, as well. Being an introvert herself, she’s quite a relatable instructor. 

She’s also familiar with Toastmasters’ Table Topics. So all you TM members out there, this will be a great match! The curriculum is set out for only 7 days. So the content is extremely snackable and easy to watch. Check it out!

Bottom Line

An impromptu speech may not be as daunting as you expect it. A little belief in yourself and a never give up attitude is all that is needed to master it.

Sometimes, well, most of the time, it’s all the chaos in our mind stops us from being the best version.  It’s the thought about what others think of us put a full stop to our personal growth. Get that thought off your mind, and you’re half-way there.

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.