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Impromtu Speaking: Be 3C and Do 3S…!

August 31, 2013
Churchill speaking

Any prep?!

Do you love impromptu speaking? Do you leap to your feet when your name is called? Or do you, like me, drag yourself wearily from your chair and eke out the seconds as you walk slowly, very slowly to the stage?

But why? Why the grief? Winston Churchill, he of the razor sharp repartee on the floor of the house, once said: “the best impromptu speech takes two weeks to prepare”. So if even he used to cheat, why should we be so hard on mere mortals like ourselves?! Instead, just chill – and remember the 3Cs and the 3Ss. The 3 Cs are simple: keep cool, calm and collected. Just chill. Hmmnn, that’s 4 Cs. Whatever, don’t panic. Chill. And remember the 3 Ss: Speechify, Stream and Segue.

First, an impromptu speech is a speech, if often rather a short one. That means it needs to have an opening, body and conclusion. The opening can be easy: you can either repeat the question or say something like ‘that is a most interesting question/a most stimulating quote/a most challenging perspective’, while stroking your (probably absent) beard and gaining you an extra ten seconds to plan the body of your speech. Then you have the whole body of the speech to conjure up a big ending – the most important part of any speech. It is the audience’s lasting memory of your speech. End with a punch and all your rambling the in the middle may be forgiven, if not forgotten!

Second, take care not to head into a dead end. Or you may find yourself repeating yourself just to spin out time. Open up a second stream. There are two common ways to do that. You could try ‘When I was younger, I used to think that way, etc etc…’, then move on to ‘Now, many years on, I think this way, etc etc…’ This time line should help you fill out the speech logically and fluently. Alternatively you could try: ‘On the one hand, proponents believe…’ and then move on to ‘On the other hand, opponents believe…’ That gives you time to get off the fence and make up your mind which side you’re going to come down on in the conclusion!

Finally, if you don’t particularly like the topic, try segueing into a topic that you do like to talk about – even better if it is one you have practised beforehand! But make sure the new topic has at least some relevance to the intended topic – and that you get back on track before the conclusion. A couple of years ago I was feeling particularly incensed at the scheduling of international rugby matches to suit the TV viewer as opposed to the travelling fan. I was given the topic: ‘a memorable holiday’. So I started by saying that I had had some wonderful, lengthy trips to the Caribbean, Fiji and Thailand over the years, but the most memorable trip of all was a day trip from my home town of Aberystwyth to Cardiff in 1967 to see Wales wallop England, 34-21 – whereupon I was able to segue onto my favourite whinge. I didn’t win best speaker, but I felt a whole heap better for getting that rant off my chest!

So, in conclusion, chill, remember the 3Cs and the 3Ss – speechify, stream and, if necessary, segue – and one day you’ll be able to think on your feet and speak off the cuff like Churchill himself – as long as you manage a couple of weeks prep beforehand!

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