Public speaking is daunting for many people, and having little time to prepare just increases the pressure. If you’re called on to give a speech at a wedding, funeral, or other similar situation, stick to pre-set ideas like personal anecdotes and quotations, and keep things brief. If you have to give a speech in a professional situation, follow a tried-and-true method for quickly organizing your thoughts to keep things to the point. Take a breath, stay confident, and you can deliver an effective speech on the spot.
EditUsing an Anecdote
- Tell a story you know well. Speeches don’t have to be invented from scratch. Telling a personal story is a great way to come up with something quickly: since you already know what happened, you’ll know what to say. For example:
- At a wedding, you could tell a funny story about growing up with the bride or groom.
- At a funeral, you could tell a story about how kind or generous the deceased was, or about how they influenced you.
- Kick things off with a quote. This is another way to rely on something that’s already out there, rather than having to come up with something on the spot. Think of an inspiring quotation, some lyrics to a song, or a famous saying that applies to the situation when you’re speaking. Start off with that, and then discuss it a bit.
- For example, imagine you’re giving a toast at Frank’s 70th birthday. You could say something like: “They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Frank here’s proving them wrong. Who else would have the courage to start running marathons in retirement?”
- Keep it short and sweet. Rambling on too long is the number one thing that can go wrong when giving a personal speech. It’s much better to avoid saying too much. Keep your speech brief, focusing on two to five main points or examples.
- For example, if you’re toasting the groom at a wedding, stick to just two good stories about your friendship.
- If you see people in the audience do things like turn away, talk to each other, check their phones or watches, or fidget in their seats, you might be rambling on and losing their attention.
- If this happens just quickly cut to your main point and say “thank you” as a way to close.
- Speak clearly and calmly. Even practiced speakers can get nervous when asked to give a talk on the spot. Control your nerves by taking a deep breath before you begin, and taking brief pauses every so often while you are talking. Focus on pronouncing your words clearly, and not speaking too quickly.
- Shore up your confidence. Many people feel nervous about giving a speech, especially with little notice. But if you show the confidence to give one, they’ll applaud you. Plus, they’ll all be so happy not to be the ones giving the speech that they’ll probably be super supportive!
- Simple ways to find your confidence before giving a speech include taking some deep, slow breaths, or closing your eyes and visualising a happy place before you begin.
- You can also look out in the audience and find a few friends or people who seem supportive, and focus on them.
- If you’re nervous, you could also try the old standby of imagining everyone in the audience naked!
- Above all, just remind yourself that most people will naturally admire the courage of someone who shows the confidence to get up and speak in front of a crowd.
EditCreating a Quick Speech Structure
- Make a quick outline, if you have time. Any preparation for your speech is better than none. If you can find a few minutes before you’re put on the spot, jot down a couple of notes about what you want to say. These can be as simple as a few bullet points to remind yourself of the main points you want to say to keep on track.
- If you don’t have time to write even a few notes, just make a quick mental outline, telling yourself something like: “First I’ll say how generous Jim is. I’ll tell the story about the time he fixed my flat tire in the middle of the night, then the one about how he baked me a birthday cake when I was sick in bed with the flu.”
- Focus on delivering a strong introduction and closing. People are more likely to remember what comes at the beginning of your speech and at the very end rather than what’s in the middle. Take advantage of this and give your strongest content at the beginning and end. For example, you could open and/or close with:
- A moving story
- A convincing fact or statistic
- An inspiring quotation
- Structure your ideas around pros and cons. This is another formula that will help you organize your ideas without rambling. Start with the positive aspects of an issue, follow with the drawbacks, and then state your own position. For example, imagine you are asked to speak on the benefits of casual Fridays:
- Begin by saying that casual Fridays boost morale, lead to greater productivity, and will make your company seem up to date.
- Follow up by acknowledging that casual Fridays mean that employees will appear less professional at the end of the week, and that they may need guidance on what kind of casual clothing is acceptable.
- End with your position that since most client meetings happen early in the week, casual Fridays overall will be good for your company and not create a disruption.
- Reframe the speech as a Q&A session. If you’re in a bind and can’t think of something to say, or just feel too nervous about giving speech, think of yourself as the moderator of a discussion rather than a speaker. Open the floor up to others, and just field their questions.
- You could start off with something like: “I know we’ve all been thinking about casual Fridays, and there are a lot of opinions out there. Let’s get the conversation going by airing some of those. Does anyone have any questions, or want to share their point of view?”
- You can also call on someone in particular, if you want or need to: “Frank, you’ve been with us the longest. Why don’t you start?”
EditUsing the PREP Method for a Topical Speech
- State your main point. PREP simply stands for “Point, Reason, Example, Point,” and it’s a simple way to structure your thoughts. Start off with the gist of what you’ll say. For example, imagine you’re asked to give an impromptu speech in favor of casual Fridays:
- Begin by saying you think casual Fridays are good because they boost employee morale.
- Follow up with a statement about why your point is important. Keep in mind you’re trying to convince your listeners. For example, you could remind them that employee morale is important because it raises productivity and reduces turnover.
- Show an example of your point. To sound believable, you’ll need to give some evidence or an explanation. Providing an example will do just that. Continuing with the same example, you could mention how a competitor, like the Acme corporation, has been more successful since implementing casual Fridays.
- Return to your main point. Telling listeners basically what you already told them will drive things home. Ending with a restatement of your main point will help it stick in their minds. For instance, just close with your point that casual Fridays would be good for your company, too.