5 minute read.
Have you ever been in a meeting or some kind of social or academic setting, and they went around the room to have everyone introduce themselves? Or maybe you had to tell a quick story about an experience you had or a lesson you learned.
What was the first thing that came into your head?
Fear? Anxiety? Nervousness?
If you are anything like me, you probably feel absolute TERROR!
Well, that’s what I used to feel like. Not anymore.
In Toastmaster’s, we refer to it as “Table Topics.” It’s the art of talking about a topic with nothing in front of you but your voice, hands, and whatever gestures you want to use to tell your story.
No script. No slides. No notes. And no preparation!
For most people, it’s the most difficult thing to do in public speaking, and for good reason. If you have the stomach for it, more power to you. You have my admiration and blessings. Go ahead and knock yourself out. You have a gift.
But if you have extreme trouble with it, like I used to have, and like so many other people have, then you are in the right place! The best part about what I am going to teach you is that you can have this gift too. It just takes a lot of practice. But you CAN do it.
In this article, I am going to break down and explain, based on my travels as a public speaker, what I feel are the ten most helpful tips for overcoming intense fear or even panic of speaking ad-lib or as they say, “on your feet.”
Let’s talk a walk on the wild side, shall we?
10. Express your opinion right away.
It is easier to come right out and say what is on your mind if you are asked a specific question, not do a full intro leading into your main point, especially if you are tight on time and you don’t have a rehearsed speech.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember everything you want to say if you are trying to tell a story from the beginning, especially if you are nervous and you have more than a few minutes to speak. It’s best to just come right out and state your answer plainly, then expand with some detail and reasoning to back up your statement and make your ideas more concrete.
9. Use the Five W’s and One H.
You can develop an argument for your topic pretty quickly if you think of the Five W’s and One H or 5W1H. These are who, what, when, where, why, and how. Any topic that you want to talk about, you can come up with a question for each of this description helpers.
For example, if you want to talk about your favorite vacation, the questions would be something like: What vacation did you take? Who did you go with? When did you go? Where did you travel? Why did you choose to go there? How did you get there? You’ll have plenty to talk about with this method, but be sure not to drag each one out too long. It’s best to keep each of these answers brief and make sure they tie together nicely.
8. Use the rule of three.
Using the rule of three provides some structure to your ad lib speech. This method is used in lots of speeches as the basis for covering three main points. This gives your main topic strength and reinforcement.
For example, when describing a visit to another country, you might say “My most memorable trip ever was in Indonesia, and here are 3 reasons why.” You may not think of all three main points right away, but slow down and think of your first main point, then describe it in a little bit of detail. Then as you are speaking, you should be able to make your second point and relate it to the first point. By the time you end your second point, that should stimulate enough thought so you shouldn’t need to struggle to think of the third point.
You’d be surprised at how quickly your thoughts start to flow once you get into talking about them. The main points could be about simple but fascinating things like transportation, cultural customs, social habits, education standards, work ethic, the local economy, family relationships, celebrations, friendships, pets, anything. Every culture has a myriad of interesting topics.
7. Start with the first idea that comes to mind.
You don’t have any time to prepare for this mini speech, right? Or you may have very little time to think of an interesting story. So, why worry? Embrace the unknown. Make it an experiment in flighty thinking. Let the first thing pop into your head and go with it.
Use this moment to go with the flow and not overthink. You’d be surprised on how clear a thought can be if you don’t focus on pressuring yourself to come up with any particular thought. It might even be *GASP* fun!
6. Prepare a few topics ahead of time in your head.
Is there a specific theme that your group is covering? If there is a theme, say “independence” for example, have a few stories in your head that you can always talk about. Chances are that you will have at least one story in your head that relates roughly to the overall theme at your current meeting.
Everyone has a few profound memories that stick in their brain for pretty much their whole life, and they are etched in your brain for various reasons. Your memories become permanent or long lasting because of trauma, sadness, joy, humor, love, or a number of other reasons or combination of reasons. Whatever the theme is, you are more than likely to have a life experience that roughly fits for whatever is the flavor of the day.
5. Know when to wrap it up.
You may have a time limit, whether it’s a hard limit or implied. If there is no explicit time limit, it really just depends on how much time you have in relation to everyone else who speaks. You don’t want to monopolize the entire speaking time, however you want to speak long enough to have a point and lead up to a good ending.
You can do that very effectively in a couple minutes if you time each part correctly. You want to have enough content, but make sure you don’t ramble on about nothing. Wrap it up with a punchy memorable ending and hand it off to the next person gracefully.
4. Buy some time.
You’re probably going to be very nervous before it’s your turn to speak. Give yourself enough time to calm down and then start with a composed opening line. If you are sitting in the back of the room, walk slowly to the front. Address the audience and thank them, then repeat the question if there is a particular theme.
After the opening line, take your time to think about the second sentence, then the third. You should be able to think of some more inspirational or entertaining comments as you go along. Also, you will appear more confident and sure of yourself if you slow down and ease into your topic.
3. Relax and don’t panic.
This is related to #4. Buying time helps you to relax. Also use short pauses and silence as a lead-in to your speaking. This tip also goes along with #7 in that you don’t have to worry or care so much about what you are going to say. The more you focus on relaxing, remaining calm, and not panicking, the easier it will be to think of your topic quickly.
If everyone in the room will be doing the same thing as you (getting up to speak), you can bet that at least half the room is having as much anxiety as you or even worse. Use this to your advantage. Make it a personal challenge, and show everyone just how relaxed and confident you can be. You can even give yourself an “air” high five when you get done!
2. Use eccentricity.
No, not electricity. That would be dangerous. I said “eccentricity” as in being weird or quirky. You don’t have to talk about a serious or dramatic subject. Do you ever hear comedians use off the wall humor to catch the audience off guard? Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don’t mean to say you should get up and try to do a comedy routine. That could seriously backfire on you, and if it does, you don’t want people remembering you for lame jokes that had nothing to do with your topic.
Instead, try to insert a line or two that has a quirky twist. Maybe something like “The first time I felt really independent was when I was 2 years old and I learned how to finger paint…on the wall. Just imagine the look on my mom’s face when she saw it was brown and it didn’t come from a jar.” Then smile. I guarantee someone in your audience will burst out laughing.
1. Use your personal experiences.
This goes along with tip #6. Most everything is more meaningful when told from someone’s personal perspective and life experiences. You know you have many stories in your life that are worth telling, so don’t let those opportunities pass.
Sure, you may be terrified to speak in front of a group about yourself or what you think about a certain topic, but the trick is to not dismiss these experiences as boring or uninteresting. It’s up to you to make them interesting. You can always channel that fear into positive energy and tell your stories with gusto and meaning.
With relaxation and proper techniques to reduce the stress of thinking on your feet quickly, you can use your own life experiences to make a short impromptu ab-lib speech a very compelling, dynamic, and memorable experience for your audience.
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Always keep leaping forward, my friend!