What comes to your mind when you think of impromptu speaking? Is it an interview? A Q&A session? Or maybe a last-minute check-in with your boss? Regardless, thinking about impromptu speaking opportunities probably stirs up a little nerves and anxiety. But – what if we told you you participate in impromptu speaking every day without even realizing it?
What is Impromptu Speaking?
Impromptu speaking is when you speak off-the-cuff, without any prior preparation.. It means even when you’re asked the simplest of questions like ‘what did you do this weekend?” or “How is your work project coming along” and respond…you’re impromptu speaking. Easy…right?
Well, not always.
While 90% of the time you don’t give impromptu speaking a second thought, there are those 10% of situations (like in a meeting or during an important one-on-one with your boss) where you really feel the pressure to perform and all of a sudden, impromptu speaking becomes difficult.
Being able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly, in a succinct and structured way isn’t always easy. Luckily, there are a few simple strategies you can use to walk into any impromptu situation feeling comfortable and prepared – which can also help to minimize the risk of going “blank”, losing your train of thought, or rambling.
Why We Lose Our Train of Thought While Impromptu Speaking
So, what exactly causes us to ‘go blank’ or lose our train of thought? According to psychologists1, it can be caused by intense feelings of nervousness and anxiety that are triggered by situations that make you feel threatened. This can kick-start your ‘fight, flight or freeze’ system which can (drum roll) cause your mind to ‘go blank.’
Many forms of public speaking – whether that’s in front of a large audience or even a few people around the boardroom table – tend to cause discomfort because it can make you feel vulnerable to judgement or rejection. This is especially true when you feel like the stakes are high and/or you will be judged by those you want to impress – like our boss or upper management.
You know that those feelings of nervousness and anxiety are REAL and can sometimes throw you off your game, but the good news is that you’re not alone. These feelings are natural and highly common. Recall that the fear of public speaking (or Glossophobia) affects over 70% of the population. Although these feelings may seem isolating, in reality, most emerging leaders will experience these feelings at some point in their careers.
How Impromptu Speaking Can Grow Your Career
The goal of speaking is to ultimately influence the other person. It could be that you want to include the way they THINK about a topic. Maybe you want them to FEEL a certain way, or maybe you want them to take a certain ACTION. Regardless of your objective, you will need to deliver your message in a clear, succinct and structured way. This might be easy(ish) to do when you’re delivering a prepared speech or scripted presentation, but it’s much more challenging to do when you’re speaking impromptu, which is why so many people tend to aimlessly ramble when responding to a question
By being able to answer impromptu questions in a clear and structured way, will not only get your message across, it will also go a long way in enhancing:
- Leadership Presence
- Job Effectiveness
- Workplace Confidence
- Professional Credibility
However, structuring your thoughts is easier said than done – especially when it’s impromptu. Luckily, there are techniques you can use to help you get through it!
Download our 1-page guide to “Answering Impromptu Questions with Clarity & Structure” and get a head start on your public speaking journey!
How to Improve your Impromptu Speaking Skills
The idea of ‘preparing’ for impromptu speaking might sound like a bit of an oxymoron. After all, how can you prepare for something that is off the cuff? Although it’s impossible for you to predict exactly what you might talk about on any given day, there are definitely things that you can do to ensure that you feel more confident and better prepared to respond.
1. Identify the situations that trigger you to feel nervous.
Before you even input yourself into a situation involving impromptu speaking, it’s important to identify your own triggers. Take a moment to think about the situations involving public speaking that have a tendency to make you feel uncomfortable. This will help you mentally prepare yourself for them in advance.
Let’s say you’ve realized your weekly check-ins with your manager often make you feel anxious and light-headed, the morning before your meeting you can engage in some coping strategies such as the 4-7-8 breathing technique or heading for a quick workout at the gym beforehand. This way, you can greet your boss accompanied by a more confident mental state and a reduced risk of being able to not articulate your thoughts.
2. Know Your Audience & Anticipate Their Thoughts & Questions
We hate to break it to you but it’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll be asked in any given situation but….we can do a pretty decent job of anticipating the possible topic that will be covered when we step into an environment like a work meeting.
Provided you know who’s going to be there and what the general purpose of the meeting is for, you have the material to be able to formulate potential questions and answers that may arise. Feeling well prepared is a great way to boost your confidence.
3. Familiarize Yourself with Impromptu Speaking Frameworks
There are a wide variety of different impromptu speaking frameworks that you might consider using. Familiarizing yourself with these frameworks will allow you to easily formulate a response that sounds succinct and professional without the added stress of floundering and questioning, ‘What thought should I mention first?”
One handy framework is The Sequential Framework. It’s one of the simplest ways to answer an impromptu question. It can be applied to a variety of different questions that may have openings such as:
- “Can you give me some reasons why…”
- “What are your opinions/perspectives on…”
- “Are there reasons we should…”
To use this framework, first decide on a number of points you want to make and state them by using language like “there are three reasons why…” (or) “while there are many reasons to continue with the program, the most important one is…” to frame your answer.
For example, if you are asked, “Can you give me some reasons as to why part-time staff should get a raise this month?” you could say:
“There are three key reasons why our part-time staff should get a raise this month…
- …the first is [state reason]
- …the second is [state reason]
- …the third is [state reason]
..for these reasons, I believe that our part-time staff should get a raise this month.”
And wrap up! It’s that simple.
Want to learn even more helpful frameworks? Sign-up for our Newsletter and receive even more public speaking tips and tricks!
4. Practice Answering Impromptu Questions With a Work Friend
The best way to prepare for impromptu speaking, like any situation involving public speaking, is through ongoing practice. Put your favourite framework to the test at your next work meeting or If you’re uncomfortable applying them to work immediately, try them out on a work friend during a break or at lunch.
What to do if you go ‘blank’
While you can do everything in your power to prevent yourself from going ‘blank’, (learning frameworks, practicing, knowing your audience, etc.) the reality is you aren’t perfect. Mistakes will occasionally happen, and the odds are you will experience going ‘blank’ from time to time. Luckily, there are tricks you can use to be prepared for situations like this, that’ll help you stay grounded and get back onto your train of thought as quickly as possible.
Take the Time to Pause and Think
Despite what you may have heard in the past, taking a small pause while speaking isn’t seen as a negative quality. If you find yourself scrambling to organize your thoughts into a clear structure, pause, take a deep breath, and work on organizing what you want to say next. Just take a peek at this video of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He didn’t see a problem in taking a full 22 seconds to think before responding to a question about a former US president.
You got this!
Buy Yourself Time to Think
If pausing in the middle of a speech or while answering a question just doesn’t sit right with you, there are other, less obvious ways, you can by yourself some time to think.
- Rephrase a question you’re being asked or saying along the lines of:
- “I’m glad you mentioned that, it’s a good point….”
- “That’s an interesting perspective, thanks for the question…”
- “I’ve never been asked that before, great question…”
- Take a sip of water: We all need a good support water bottle to travel with us between meetings. If you need some time to think, take a swig from that bottle and it’ll buy you an extra 3-4 seconds to think!
Continue to Project Confidence
The key in all this is to remember you don’t have to feel confident to look confident. Even if you’re struggling to structure your thoughts or to answer a question, remembering to continue to project confidence through your voice and body movements will take you a long way.
Continuing Your Impromptu Speaking Journey
Overall, these strategies we covered are great to keep in your back pocket – especially when you’re trying to impress your coworkers and upper management. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks on how you can improve your clarity of speaking, download our 1-page guide to “Answering Impromptu Questions with Clarity & Structure” and get started on your public speaking journey!
1. Montopoli, J. (2021, January 31). Public speaking anxiety and fear of brain freezes. National Social Anxiety Center. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://nationalsocialanxietycenter.com/2017/02/20/public-speaking-and-fear-of-brain-freezes/