Impromptu Speaking

One of the most difficult things to do is to speak on the spot. You might say that’s easy. Sure it is, if it doesn’t matter what you say. But what if you are a presenter on stage or at a function or have been thrown a ridiculous question by your boss? People are looking at your and waiting on a comment. Your comment. Or waiting for you to sort out a problem. But you mind cannot process this much information. A thousand thoughts are forcing their way towards your mouth with the main one being. ‘Shit’.


Random Topic Generator

Here's a random topic to ad-lib for two minutes. Start in five seconds:

"The art of napping: how to master the perfect cat nap every time."

We created this little topic generator after an idea from fledgling topic speaker, Danny Pham. The key is to not refresh the page for a better topic. Go with what is presented – that makes it a real life situation. Have a think about the topic for five seconds and then start speaking for two minutes. Record yourself on your phone. Practice is the only solution to getting better. It takes time and effort but it pays off.

Seasoned presenters have lots of ideas on how to get themselves out of a jam. Over time they have built a stockpile of answers, replies and ideas that save them. Every presenter will have stories about how things have fallen apart and how they saved the day. Many times the audience won’t even know there has been an issue. They just thought it was part of the show.

Anecdote: At a local outdoor event a young lady stood on stage ready to delight the crowd with her singing. It was an amateur contest. I introduced her, the crowd (especially her family) cheered. No music. She stood there waiting for her music to start. I had moved to the side of the stage and waited. In the distance I could see the engineers battling and indicating there was an issue. What can I do?

“Ah ladies and gents me have a minor technical issue. How many in the audience today come from Bargo.” (I chose a wealthy suburb about thirty kilometers away). About ten hands were raised. “OK, it’s your turn to stack the chairs after the event today.” The crowd roared with laughter as I apologised for the technical problem and told them we’d be back shortly. A random music track was played and we left the stage.”

Here are a few ideas for presenters:

  • Try and have a handful of ad-libs up your sleeve to use if needed. The stacking the chairs is a fun one that leaves the audience with a smile. But you need to be careful that you don’t offend anyone in the process. It’s all in the way you deliver it.
  • Have a short corny joke that gets a reaction. Trial and error.
  • Always introduce yourself and chat with the head audio engineer and stage manager before any event.

When I left the stage I was told the girl had supplied her own backing track as most do in contests. In those days it was by CD. She had copied a data file and not an audio file. So no sound. The engineer had not checked the audio on the CD and just assumed it would be right. After that day and at any event like this I double checked with the engineer that audio on the backing tracks has been checked. Some audio engineers take offence to being asked this so I share this anecdote. I don’t care if they don’t like me, it is ‘me’ on stage who is left feeling like an idiot. Btw – the audio engineer solved the issue – not sure how, but he worked his magic. The young lady performed her song.

Use the Audience

Often when things fall apart you can also use the audience as a lifesaver. Go down into the audience and interview them with some sort of question related to the event. You can move from person to person asking simple questions. If you are lucky to find a fun person stay with them and ask more questions.

No: Are you happy today? (you only get a yes or a no answer)

Yes: What have you liked about today? (You get a reply that will help fill the time)

Never tell them they are a mob of morons. They get upset especially if they are morons.

Begin with the end in mind. Just imagine that your event or presentation will go perfectly. See people thanking you for a job well done. Try not to watch the clock and wish it was over. You can do it. It just takes practice and persistence.