How to Give an Impromptu Speech

by ianmckenzie on September 10, 2012

Has this happened to you? You’re attending a meeting. You’re not expecting to say anything, just sit and listen. During a presentation, your boss is asked a question about the department’s plans for the coming year. He turns to you and says, “Ian, you’ve been working on our major project for the past year. Maybe you could say a few words about how this project got started, where it stands and where it is going.”

If something like this happens to you, you don’t need to panic. If you know how to organize your thoughts, and you know your job, you’re most of the way to giving an effective impromptu presentation.

You can effectively respond by taking the following steps:

Stop and think:

Take a moment to organize your thoughts. Any topic can be split up into components. Choose a common pattern of organization. Break your topic into a pattern such as:

  • chronological sequence (e.g., past, present and future),
  • topical (try and keep to three areas, e.g., production, advertising and marketing);
  • the pro’s and con’s of an issue (useful in persuasive situations).

In the example above, a chronological sequence fits.

Start to speak:

1) Give a few introductory remarks.

Before you launch into your topic, give yourself time to get collected. Make some general introductory comments, such as, “I’m pleased to be here today to provide some information. I don’t have a formal presentation but would be happy to describe the project we’ve been working on.”

2) Develop a clear preview sentence of your main points. (Tell them what you are going to tell them.)

Tell your audience what your key points are. From the example above, you could simply say, “I would like to tell you about how we started this project, where we are today and our time-line for completing the project”, which is a chronological sequence.

3) Deliver the body of the presentation. (Tell them)

Talk through each point from your preview sentence. Having set an organizational pattern and knowing where you are going takes some of the stress out of the situation.

4) Review the main points. (Tell them what you told them)

Reinforce the main ideas you’ve touched upon by briefly restating them. Something like, “I’ve tried in these past few minutes to give you an overview of how this project started, where it is now and where we think it will go.”

5) Conclude the presentation.

Don’t leave your presentation hanging. Conclude with a strong, positive statement. From the above example, “I hope to attend next month’s meeting to report a satisfactory conclusion to our project. I would be happy to take any questions at this time.”

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