Using graphs in a presentation
Ethos, Pathos and Logos in public speaking
Being able to quickly formulate clear and confident answers to key questions is an important skills for all business leaders to have.
Becoming expert at impromptu speaking tactics allows us to become the sought-after panellist for Q&A sessions, to build connections at networking events and to craft positive responses during key sales pitches.
Whilst we cannot anticipate every question that we will ever be asked (and prepare stock answers), we can learn some key structures that will allow us to improve our impromptu speaking and reduce our need to rely on safety nets such as scripts or PowerPoint slides.
There are several impromptu speaking tactics that you can use to quickly formulate answers (in less than three weeks, Mark Twain!) to unexpected questions or speech topics. Within this article we will explore three answer structures that can support you to become an expert impromptu speaker. I would recommend that after reading this article you practice rehearsing using these structures aloud, using dummy questions.
As you become more confident using these impromptu speaking tactics, you will find that you can expand or contract the answers that you formulate, to demonstrate more of your expertise, or to fill the time that you have been allocated, (should you need to!).
Memorising them all will give you a powerful impromptu speaking arsenal to roll-out at will.
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
The PREP method
The PREP method for impromptu speaking is the most basic and simple of our impromptu speaking tactics.
If you were to be asked: "What are your views on fox hunting?"
Then you could apply the PREP method to construct a structured, effective answer. You may respond something like this (with a little more elaboration!):
Point: "I am against fox hunting."
Reason: "Because fox hunting is a cruel, vicious sport that is a terrible way for foxes to die."
Explanation (elaborate further on your reason here): "When I was young, I was playing in garden when a fox hunt passed by the back of our house. At a young age, I had to watch a fox viciously torn apart (describe the scene!)."
Point (this restates your viewpoint and acts as a conclusion): "I am against fox hunting because of this experience I had as a young child."
The Past, Present, Future method
This method is great for demonstrating your knowledge of changes within a sector or area of business over time. It can also be really useful when you have been asked a question (usually nothing too serious) and you need to fill-out your answer somewhat.
So, as a slightly lighter, non-business-related example of this impromptu speaking tactic in action, you could be asked:
"What did you do for your birthday this year?"
You would then proceed to tell the questioner what it was that you did this year (the present).
But where to next with this speech? You may find that you still have several minutes to fill.
Why not talk about your favourite birthday to date, or a birthday from your childhood (the past)?
If this birthday was your favourite, or a child’s birthday party with lots of jelly and ice cream and party games played, then you will find you have a lot to talk about!
Still running short of content? Then, you guessed it, let’s talk about a future birthday party – your ideal birthday.
This impromptu speaking tactic of past, present and future can be applied to lots of questions. In the workplace it can be used strategically to demonstrate change over time, lessons from history and to support your proposed plan of action.
For example, by sharing the learnings from historical data (past) and the current situation (present) you can often provide clear evidence for why the organisation should follow your proposed course of action (the future).
The displacement method
Ok, you’ve been asked the very awkward question about whether all staff should be given a pay rise this year.
You step up in front of your audience, and really can’t think of anything interesting to say beyond the word "Yes." (or possibly "no"!).
Now would be a good time to try the displacement method for impromptu speaking. Using this method, you create content for your answer by answering it from other people’s perspectives.
Don’t give your opinion, give the opinion of someone who you feel might have much stronger views on the subject, someone your audience can relate to and, most importantly, someone you can speak on behalf of.
So, for our pay rise example, you may wish to begin by saying: “I don’t have much of an opinion on this, but I can assure you that our finance team does!”.
From here, you can lengthen your answer to the question by explaining the financial stand point on this and the reasoning behind it. If you begin to lose inspiration you might then switch to the opinion or perspective of another function - the HR team or the Sales team.
Doing this gives you content for your answer, but then also allows you time to either process your own points, or to build to a clear conclusion, based on all of the opinions of the various functions, that you have shared with your audience.
How can I develop into a successful impromptu speaker?
Mindset and perspective is incredibly important when approaching impromptu speaking. You can read more about overcoming your fear of impromptu speaking here.
More practically, using the three impromptu speaking tactics above is a great way to begin your impromptu speaking development. Practicing using these tactics in private will help to build your confidence and allow you to practice flexing each technique to answer different types of questions.
As your confidence grows, then pick a structure to test out at an occasion during your working week - perhaps a meeting or networking event. How did it go? Did it feel natural or forced? How could you have edited your answer to make it even more engaging? If you do not have the opportunities to practice these techniques at work, then perhaps seek out a local public speaking club, such as Toastmasters, to give yourself the opportunity for further practice.
In time, you may find yourself on stage and being recorded answering questions. Always ask (however uncomfortable you may feel) to watch the footage back afterwards. Seeing yourself recite answers on video is the quickest way to develop your technique and delivery style. You will probably find one or two things that you feel you could improve, but also, you will be pleasantly surprised by how confident and fluent you sound. Often, we have a much more negative image of ourselves in our head, than is the case in reality.
Anyone can be a successful impromptu speaker with a little practice. Remember that great speakers are made (through focus and practice) and that not even our greatest speakers (Churchill, Jobs, Obama), left the womb as fully-formed expert presenters!
Discover more Public Speaking tips and techniques in our other blog articles