It's 8:30am and you've leisurely rolled in the office, with your Peet's coffee in hand. Suddenly your boss pokes her head in your office and says, "Charlie called in sick today and he's supposed to give a customer presentation this morning in the briefing center. Can you cover it?" Are you ready for your next impromptu speech?



As marketing professionals, there is an expectation that we have the very best communication skills. And with enough preparation and advanced notice, most of us can deliver a terrific presentation. However, there are many times when the unforeseeable happens and we are called to deliver an impromptu presentation. Is there a way to "prepare" for an impromptu speech?

A "prepared impromptu" might sound like an oxymoron until we realize that most impromptu speeches will be based on topics we either know well, or have at least a mild familiarity. Back in Speech 101, it was probably a requirement to pull a few subjects from a hat and give a 2-3 minute talk on a random topic. While a good exercise for learning "off-the-cuff" speaking, in the corporate world I have yet to see a CEO pull topics from a hat and require employees to demonstrate their public speaking prowess.

Realizing that most impromptu speeches will cover topics we know well, let's get back to the scenario above. While you may not be wholly prepared for the morning customer briefing, there are some steps you can take to be ready for your next impromptu talk.

Step #1: Practice impromptu speaking. At first glance it might not seem possible to practice impromptu speaking, but there are resources available to assist you in speaking extemporaneously.

Joining your local Toastmasters, for example, can give you practice in speaking off-the-cuff. All Toastmasters groups are required to host a 15-20 minute "Table Topics" session as part of a general meeting. In Table Topics, members are given a random question by a moderator and asked to talk for 45 seconds or more about the assigned topic. Members are encouraged to treat each table topic as a mini-speech and try to include an introduction, body and conclusion.

As a Toastmaster, I highly recommend the organization. However, if you don't want to join a speaking club you can always practice impromptu speaking with your peers. Practicing your impromptu speaking on a weekly basis can help prepare you to think and speak on your feet. At first, your impromptu speaking will probably not be very coherent. However, with practice, you will notice a remarkable difference in your ability to improvise.

Step #2: Practice speaking on familiar subjects. I have found that many times I understand a particular subject and in my mind I know it well, however actually presenting that subject to an audience is a different animal. It can be frustrating to have a firm grasp of a topic but then have trouble articulating and summarizing the topic in an intelligible manner.

For example, you might be a product manager and work with a product everyday, but unless you've actually completed a live demonstration for a customer regarding how the product really works, you could find yourself looking foolish. A practice run, or two, for a group of peers (pretending to be customers) will help remove some of the rough patches in a future presentation.

So put down your coffee, grab your laptop and don't fret. By following these steps to better impromptu speaking, you'll have practiced speaking on your feet and practiced the material you'll most likely present. Few marketers like to speak spontaneously, but at least you can be prepared for your next impromptu speech.

Fellow marketers, are you prepared for your next impromptu talk?

What techniques do you use to prepare for ad-hoc speeches or customer discussions? Any lessons learned or tidbits of wisdom that you'd like to share?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.