How To Give Extemporaneous Speeches

Extemporaneous speeches and presentations on short notice are difficult for even experienced speakers, but this guide details the process by which anyone can masterfully speak to audiences with virtually no preparation time at all.

Extemporaneous speeches are presentations that must be given without any notes or slides and with a minimum of preparation time, usually less than 30 minutes. The best extemporaneous speakers can give a professional, intelligent, and smooth speech almost off the top of their heads. Most people have difficulty doing that well even with weeks of preparation, copious notes, and plenty of slides on which to rely. Extemporaneous speech is an event in the both high school and college speech tournaments and is recognized by employers as one of the most critical job skills for those who must frequently give presentations in both industry and academia.

The first step to preparing an extemporaneous speech is to focus on your topic. It sounds simple, but one of the easiest ways to wallow away what few minutes of preparation time you have is to let your mind wander or worry even a little bit. Focus is best attained by removing all distractions, even ones that might seem necessary. Sit down with nothing but a piece of paper, a pen, and a completely empty writing surface (desk, table, etc.). With less than half an hour to prepare, checking email three times seriously cuts down on how much you can get done.

Next, write six things on your piece of paper. Place "Introduction" at the top, "Topic" right below it, "Conclusion" at the bottom, and distribute the numbers 1, 2, and 3 in the middle of the page. Next to where you wrote "Topic", summarize your subject in twenty-five words or less in a complete sentence. This is far more difficult than it sounds, but is exceedingly important. If you can't summarize in a succinct sentence what you are talking about, then there is no way that the audience will get very much out of your presentation.



Once the subject is clearly identified, it is time to organize the presentation itself. How do you want to prove your point to the audience? Identify the three topics on which your presentation will focus, preferably in a short sentence each, for the same reason as the main subject. Depending on your subject, they can be three separate justifications of your hypothesis, three linear steps in an argument, or simply three indirectly related sub-topics that fall under your main subject. Speakers should almost always try to stick with three sub-topics because two will seem overly broad unless the presentation is exceedingly short, and any more than three will make the presentation seem overly complicated and difficult to follow in most situations.

Now that you have a basic structure, it is time to flush out the presentation itself. Divide each of the sub-topics into two or three more sub-divisions. Under each of these sub-divisions, take notes on any statistics, references, or other tidbits of information that you want to give the audience. Two to four such tidbits is ideal under each of these sub-divisions.

It might be difficult to force yourself to organize down to this level, but the key to good presentations is organization down to the smallest detail. Consider it this way, if you have a twenty minute presentation and allocate a minute each to introduction and conclusion, you are left with 18 minutes for the body of your speech. That is six minutes per sub-topic, about two minutes per sub-division, and somewhere around 30 seconds to a minute per tidbit. A speaker of above average quality will churn out about 4 tight, coherent sentences per minute. So you have to be able to present each of your little tidbits in two to four sentences. Most amateur presentations either run considerably short or considerably long, because it is very difficult to anticipate how much you can fit in your presentation without organizing in this manner.

The final step is practice. Although experienced speakers can often wing presentations, it is best to spend as much time as possible practicing giving the speech once the outline is ready. The best way to practice a presentation to perfection is to give it from the outline over and over again, tinkering with the wording as you go. Finally, once you are satisfied with the tinkering, give the presentation through three of four times in a row without your notes. If you get stuck, glance at the outline, but keep going without missing a beat. After a few times through, you will surprise yourself by being able to give the speech smoothly without needing the outline.

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