Being asked to make a speech on the spot can intimidate even the most composed, outgoing person. It’s the kind of scenario that gives people nightmares.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been unexpectedly asked to stand up and say a few words, and it might surprise people to know that even though I’m a practiced public speaker, I still get a little rush of anxiety if I feel unprepared.
Having a process alleviates anxiety and lets me make the most of the few moments that I may have to get my thoughts together and work up some compelling stories to make the speech memorable.
These six tips can help make sure what you say is both coherent and memorable, even if you have just seconds to prepare:
1. Use the callback technique.
One of the tactics employed by standup comedians, the callback technique anchors your words to concepts or points that have already occurred during the event. The idea is to tie your speech to something that the audience—as a group—can relate to. Making a joke about something that happened earlier or mentioning the highlights of the evening so far creates a closer bond between you and the audience, and it can set them up to receive your words favorably.
2. Put the punchline first.
Let your audience know upfront what you plan to accomplish in your speech. Not only is it a good idea to prep your audience with a preview, but it also gives you a little more think time. While you’re laying out your main points, you can be mentally sorting out the details—the specifics you’ll need to flesh out your speech.
3. Refer to audience members by name.
Not only will you command the attention of the people you call out, you’re also grabbing the attention of all the people in the room who know those folks. You’re creating an affinity with the group by demonstrating your personal relationships in the room.
4. Use mnemonics.
You may not have time to develop a complicated acronym to help you remember a dozen points, but you may have time to generate a handful of significant points and create a vivid mental picture to help you remember what you want to say. You won’t need notecards if you can call up an image in your head that helps you remember what you want to cover.
5. Share stories.
If you can spin a yarn that paints pictures in the minds of your audience, then you’re making them more active participants. Listeners who are engaged in your story may be more likely to accept your conclusions and can be more apt to be persuaded by your words. Whether you’re making an impromptu pitch for a contribution to a worthy charitable cause, or merely saying a few words about a beloved colleague who is retiring, your goal is to win your audience’s approval and hopefully get them to agree with you. Stories bring your speeches to life.
6. Be brief.
You’re more likely going to be far more effective if you put your energy into compelling, vivid points with richly detailed stories than you will be if you prattle on to fill up the time you’ve been allotted. Be genuine, be lively and be brief.
Every one of us has something to contribute, and by practicing your public speaking process, you’re ensuring that the next time you’re unexpectedly thrust into the limelight, you can handle it gracefully.
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This article was originally published on October 6, 2014.