No time to prepare – how to speak off the cuff

Why do I need to practice speaking off the cuff. The answer is simple, because we do it all the time. Impromptu Speaking is one of the most important yet least practiced skill of verbal communicating. A few situations in which we speak in an impromptu manner are:

  • Speaking in a meeting at work
  • Speaking on the telephone
  • Introducing yourself to a new acquaintance
  • Being asked for your opinion on a topic
  • Unexpectedly being asked to say a few words at a dinner

Here are a few simple strategies that can be used to help you to speak off the cuff in an intelligent and informative manner. These strategies (or variations of them) can be used in most impromptu situations.

Past, present and future

In past, present and future, you tell it how it was, how it is now, and how it will be in the future. Not only does it give you three main points to speak about, but it helps you to structure what you are saying into a coherent and logical manner. Eg: When speaking at a wedding:

  • I first met John and Sue about 10 years ago.. (the past)
  • Today, they look great together. (the present)
  • I am sure they are going to have many good years ahead (the future)

Express an opinion

State an opinion and then justify with supporting facts. Eg:

  • Sugar is bad for you because the rise in obesity correlates with increased sugar consumption

Address cause and effect

State the situation; discuss the causes and the eventual consequences. This is a strategy that politicians are extremely good at using. Eg:

  • The lack of ability of the opposition to perform is delaying the decision making process…

Break the Topic into components

Break the topic into a few simple components and discuss them individually. This approach can be a combination of the above approaches. So you could speak about something that happened in the past, discuss the implications for the present, and express an opinion as to the best strategy in the future.

A few tips when speaking off the cuff:

  • Listen to what the other person said. If you are unsure, ask them to repeat.
  • Pause before answering. This gives your time to formulate and structure your answer.
  • Say what you want to say, and nothing else.
  • Stop talking when you are finished. You dont need to ramble on and on.

During the table topics session at a Toastmasters meeting, members of the club are called to the lectern by the topics master, and are asked to speak for between 1-2 minutes on an unprepared topic. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice impromptu meetings, and to listen to how others do it.

The best way to improve your impromptu speaking is to practice. Seize every opportunity to do so, practice. and listen to yourself become a more effective communicator.

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