I love it when readers leave comments and ask me to write about specific topics.  Recently someone said, “Hey Gavin; your posts help me a lot, but I have a problem. I am awful at extemporizing when given a topic I don’t know anything about. It would be helpful if you wrote a post on it.”

That’s a great question, and here’s my answer.

Learn to trust your brain!

Having coached hundreds of people on impromptu speaking, I know that the number one cause of this problem is a lack of confidence in our ability to come up with something meaningful to say without preparation.  When we get put on the spot, our brain will usually throw up an initial idea but, rather than going with it, most people question whether it is “good enough.” In so doing, they block themselves and shut down their inbuilt creativity.  I learned this lesson when I attended an improvisation workshop some years ago.   Improvisation is all about learning how to unleash your innate creativity, and the first step is to understand how to turn off your internal critic and to go with whatever idea pops into our head.

How to do it?

  • Tip one, become aware that you are blocking yourself  
    Whenever you are put on the spot and asked to speak “off the cuff” notice what happens inside your head.  You’ll almost certainly become aware of your “internal critic” jumping in and shutting your ideas down.     Don’t worry – this is natural, and becoming aware of it is the first step to unlocking your impromptu speaking ability.
  • Tip  two – practice  “accepting” your own ideas
    Imagine having a conversation with a friend who has a problem and, every time you make a suggestion, they say, “Yes but…”   The conversation wouldn’t last very long would it.   Now imagine the same conversation, but this time, every time either of you suggests something, the other says “Yes and…”   The energy and the result would be quite different wouldn’t it. This second approach is called acceptance.   Now imagine being put on the spot in a meeting when you are asked to speak on a topic without preparation.  This time you deliberately choose to accept the first idea that pops into your mind.  When you do this, you will discover that your brain usually feeds you good ideas and trusting your inner creativity will become easier and easier.
  • Tip three – learn about improvisation
    Do some research on the internet and, if possible find a local improv group.  These groups, as well as putting on hilarious shows, often run local workshops.   You will have great fun, and you will learn how to improvise with ease, and this will make impromptu speaking much easier.
  • Tip four – find a local Toastmasters club
    Toastmasters International is a worldwide network of public speaking and leadership development clubs.  Most local branches run a session called “Table Topics” at every meeting.   The Table Topics session is all about improvisation and impromptu speaking, and it is the perfect place to practice and develop your ability to speak off the cuff.
  • Tip five – practice self-compassion
    When practising impromptu speaking, the risk of forgetting your words is always greater than when you are delivering a speech.If this happens, it is all too easy to allow your internal critic to beat yourself up and to tell yourself that you are no good at impromptu speaking.   Instead, practice Self-compassion and forgive yourself.   Everybody makes mistakes, particularly in the early stages of learning a new skill.   You wouldn’t tell a child who fell over while he was learning to walk that he would never be any good at walking would you?   Practice self-compassion and your self-trust and impromptu speaking abilities will improve surprisingly quickly.


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