As I go through the transcripts of all the interviews I conducted to write Public Speaking Super Powers, and I listen to what a variety of professional and amateur speakers have to say on the topic of impromptu vs prepared speaking, I’ve noticed that many of these people are not speaking the same language. They are using their terms to mean different things.
There are many speakers who pride themselves in not “over-preparing” for a speech. They like to talk about how they “wing it” and “speak off-the-cuff.” Others emphasize how important it is to practice, practice, practice your speech if you are going to speak professionally.
However, the disagreement I see on the surface, I believe, in many cases does not actually exist if you dig a little deeper. Here’s what I mean:
The true meaning of “impromptu speech” is a speech given without planning, organization or rehearsal. This is a skill all its own and is a regular part of the Toastmasters experience. However, when a professional speaker talks about what they are an expert on “off-the-cuff,” they are not giving an impromptu speech.
Professional speakers take time to plan their speaking points. They rehearse them over and over until they become an innate part of who they are. And they always have an organizational structure in mind when they go on stage to speak.
This is why professional speakers can — seemingly easily — tailor their presentations for their audience on the fly. They know their message down pat. They could probably talk about their expertise in their sleep. They have achieved this level of professionalism by taking the time to get their thoughts organized, practiced the various part of their message, and have a plan for staying on message while moving the pieces of their presentation around to accommodate the needs of their audience.
Great speakers make this look easy. But, I bet, if you asked them, they’d say it took them many years, sometimes of trial and error, to get their presentation to look effortless.
So how do you develop this super power of appearing impromptu yourself? Follow these simple (I didn’t say easy) steps:
1. Plan out your message
What are the key points of your message? Can you create nuggets that you can use independently of each other? This will allow you to more easily tailor your message to different lengths, and different audience needs.
Basically, you’re mapping out the journey you want to take your audience one. Sometimes you stop at all the rest areas, sometimes you don’t. But, you always know where they are.
2. Organize your message
Using the map analogy again, can you break your message down into milestones? Each milestone will have a variety of nuggets and stories associated with it. Knowing which nuggets and stories go where in the overarching journey of your message helps you pull the right ones at the right times. If you’ve passed milestone 1 in your speech, you’ll know not to tell a story that belongs there, but pull a story from the milestone you’re currently talking about.
3. Practice your message
The opening and the close are the key parts of your presentation that you will need to know by heart. Practice them over and over until you can recite them with ease.
Then move onto the various parts of your speech I mentioned above. Practice those enough so that you can tell your stories with ease and share your nuggets with grace, but don’t rehearse the transitions — they can throw you off if you have to leave a story or nugget out.
That say, go back to step one and plan out your possible transitions, so you can make your speech seem effortless.
If you implement the above three steps, you can create a powerful message that is adaptable to almost any situation … and give a professional impression every time.