If there is one thing that some people fear even more than public speaking, it is speaking off the cuff.   Impromptu speaking can turn confident presenters into gibbering wrecks.  We've all been there. You are sitting quietly in a meeting minding your own business, when your boss suddenly, turns to you and asks for a quick update on a project you have worked on.  You weren't expecting it, and you have nothing ready.  Your mind goes blank, your throat constricts, and you become aware of everyone staring at you.

I know it’s scary but impromptu speaking doesn’t have to be difficult. Much of your terror comes from the initial adrenaline surge you get because our mind perceives such situations as a threat.

Change the way you think about speaking off the cuff
Off the cuff speeches, are a fantastic opportunity to show your expertise.  Think about it for a moment.  You are usually asked to speak about stuff you know about, aren’t you?   I mean, why would anyone at work ask you to talk about something that they know you know absolutely nothing about?

Start with a silence
When you are put on the spot, its common to launch straight into saying the first thing that comes into their heads. This is a risky strategy.

Instead,  pause, take a breath and get your mind into gear before engaging your mouth.   As well as buying you valuable thinking time, a pause creates more credibility as it shows that you are thinking before speaking.

Trust yourself and turn off your internal critic
I believe that our brain is amazing and that it will, if you trust it, feed you with everything you need to speak confidently and coherently.  The problem is most people have an internal critic, who judges our ideas before we express them.  Its intention is positive in that it ones to stop us from saying anything stupid, but, if we give it too much credence, its effect is to shut down our creativity.   Experience has taught me to trust my first ideas, and so you will find the same.   It takes a little courage and a lot of practice, but it is the key to becoming a confident off the cuff speaker

Use a simple framework to organise your thoughts
Speaking off the cuff, like any other type of presentation benefits from a logical structure.  In other words, it needs a beginning, a middle and a conclusion.   I use a formula called PREP to help me organise my impromptu speaking.   PREP is an acronym for Position, Reason, Example and Proposition.   I start by stating my position, go on to explain the reasons for this position, give one or more examples that illustrate my position and then finish by either restating my position or making a proposition for further action.

In conclusion
Speaking off the cuff is a learnable skill like any other.   When I started, I was terrible,  but now I relish the challenge that impromptu speaking provides.  I continue to use and practice all all the techniques I have written about in this article and I am confident that you will benefit from using them too.

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  1. Joshua P-W on 23/01/2014 at 12:06

    PREP PREP PREP! Excellent. I will be using that one. Plus, I have an insane internal critic. I can only talk off the cuff when I am around people I am comfortable around. I’m incredibly shy in regard to strangers, but when I’m around my girlfriend, I can just ramble on without thinking about it. So weird.

  2. Craig Hadden – Remote Possibilities on 04/11/2013 at 01:39

    The PREP framework sounds great. So good to have a structure in mind to avoid rambling under pressure!

    • Gavin Meikle on 04/11/2013 at 06:28

      Thanks for your comment Craig, I’m sure youll find PREP useful.

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