Author Archives: Rich

About Rich

Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

Impromptu speaking tactics (Part 1)

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It’s all very well have the strength of character to stand up and talk without warning in front of an audience, but if you have nothing to say, your bravery will be wasted.

So how do you fill-out that two, five or ten minutes that you have been asked to speak for?

There are several tactics that you can use, depending on the situation, and in this first post I will outline one of them. Watch this blog for details of the other tactics. Memorising them all will give you a powerful impromptu speaking arsenal to roll-out at will.

The PREP method

The PREP method for impromptu speaking is the most basic and simple method.

Imagine you are asked: ‘What are your views on fox hunting?’

If you were to 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.

David Cameron’s speech 11th May

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David Cameron has been lauded for his ability to win over voters and project a personality through his speaking in a way that Gordon Brown could not. But how was this reflected in his first speech as Prime Minister on the 11th May 2010?

As the content of Cameron’s speech is difficult to judge without any form of bias (we all have different views on the outcome of the general election), lets take a look at his technique.

Cameron’s speech on the 11th May was an opportunity to use his body and voice to further illustrate the ‘personal touch’ that helped him to win the election over Gordon Brown and set the tone for the next four or five years of his reign. In my opinion, it was an opportunity missed.

Hands – Cameron clearly anchors his hands together throughout the speech. This is a great technique for the nervous speaker or a speaker who has a habit of fidgeting. Clasping your hands together in this way avoids them distracting your audience from your face and voice and avoids appearing nervous.

However, Cameron is an experienced speaker and so I would have liked to have seen him make greater use of his hands and arms to open himself up to his audience and involve them more. The most extravagant hand gesture we see in this speech is a movement of the left hand as Cameron makes key points.

By opening up both hands, and using slightly wider gestures, Cameron could have appeared more personable and opened himself up to his audience more. This isn’t to say I recommend that he should be flailing his arms widely, just expanding his gestures slightly to avoid his hands being concealed by the microphone in front of him.

Tone – Whilst on the campaign trail, we saw some inspiring videos of Cameron speaking to groups and varying the tone of his voice at key points to hammer home important and emotion-stirring points. This doesn’t happen so much in this speech and it is slightly weaker for it.

A strong, tone of voice even on one single point at the end of this speech could have left the media audience with an inspirational message to project in news bulletins across the world for the coming days.

Of course, after a long month of campaigning, negotiating and meeting the Queen, we cannot be too harsh on David Cameron, especially as his speech was very impromptu and probably prepared on his car journey from the palace!

It will be interesting to see how his speaking style develops and varies during the good and bad times to come over the next few years.

Know your audience

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You wouldn’t run a marathon without knowing how far a marathon actually was. How would you know how hard to train, what to expect and how to succeed in running the distance?

Similarly, speaking in public becomes much easier the greater your level of preparation.

There are many things you can do to prepare, one of which is to gain a greater understanding of your audience.

Your speech can be increasingly tailored, and therefore much more effective if you know:

–         Your audience size

For example, larger audiences require a louder voice, wider gestures and a broader coverage of a topic

–         Your audience age

The fight between families on what to watch on the TV is a prime example of how different ages prefer different content

–         Your audience interests, or desired outcomes from your speech

Your overall objective is to satisfy your audience needs. Do they want to be inspired, educated, informed? If you are unsure of their specific targets, ask them!

–         The length of time you have to deliver your message

Running over your allocated time can frustrate an audience with little time to spare and not having enough content can be embarrassing for you and awkward for your audience. Practice to ensure that you have enough content for your speech

–         How interactive your audience expect your speech to be

Does your audience want to be lectured or to get involved in your speaking? Which will get your point across more?

The greater your level of preparation, the easier you make your task. Remember, public speaking is one of the few areas of life where you, the speaker have complete control over the outcomes of the activity.

Preparation, such as researching your audience well, helps you to control the success of your speech.

Fear of impromptu speaking

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So many of us have a fear of impromptu speaking. For example, we fear being asked to stand up and speak in a meeting at work, without warning.

We fear being put on the spot. We fear not having anything to say.

What so many of us also don’t realise is that we speak on an impromptu basis everyday.

How many people have asked you ‘how are you?’ today?

How many free-flowing conversations have you had?

These questions, and your answers, are impromptu public speaking. You did not prepare an answer, you most likely answered instantaneously.

I wouldn’t believe that you struggled for an answer to any of the questions you have received in the course of conversation today, so why should you struggle if asked another simple question, if you are asked to speak at work in a meeting, or at a family gathering?

Never be worried about not having prepared anything to say. You survive without preparing answers throughout the course of your everyday life.

The only difference is the size of your audience – an aspect which I will cover in a future blog post.

Keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks and months as I also cover tactics for creating great speeches ‘off the cuff”!