I was sweating. Biting my lip. Fidgeting with my hands and feet. Crossing and uncrossing my arms. I started breaking out in hives. Itching everywhere. Felt like I was going to pass out.
Finally I started speaking. I managed to choke out some half-words. Tongue-tied. I started to panic. I stopped making eye-contact. Couldn’t handle it. Stared straight at the crumpled quotation in my hand. Quickly read it out loud.
“. . . I think . . . umm . . . I agree with this quote . . . aaaand that’s the end of my speech.”
My first impromptu speech lasted about 10 seconds (or about 60 if you count the time I stood there waiting). I was scarred for life. I wanted to go home. Wanted to cry. Wanted to curl up in a ball and never show my face again.
Fast forward 2 years, I was in Virginia competing at the national championship. I heard my name called and stepped into an over-flowing room for a six minute impromptu speech. I was beyond excited. Sure, plenty of nerves, but it was a good kind of rush. Thrilling. Received my speech topic. Grinned. Perfect. Gave my speech. Nailed it!
And now, every week at a local Toastmasters club, I play an eye-contact game, tailored to each different emcee, trying to get called on for an impromptu. Because now, almost ten years after my first attempt, impromptu speaking makes me feel on top of the world.
So here are 7 reasons why I want you to try impromptu speaking. It may not be for you. But until you try, you’ll never know what you might be missing.
1. Trying impromptu makes you humble.
I was kind of a hot shot as a kid. An intellectual hot shot. I knew it all. I was smarter and better than you. . . . that is, until the day I tried my first impromptu speech. If you want humility, try doing impromptu speaking for the first time.
2. Learning impromptu gives you discipline.
Because it is such a struggle, because it can be so discouraging, even painful–practicing impromptu speaking is a very tangible way to learn how self-discipline and diligence can transform your life. It’s a safe outlet for exercising the power of discipline and watching it make you more effective.
3. Impromptu speaking puts skills in perspective.
The smartest person can stand up and completely bomb an impromptu speech. Which is a good life lesson about the fact that many valuable skills take a lot of hard work and dedication. Skills are not as much about your natural talent as they are about how hard you’re willing to work on them.
4. Impromptus teach you to think quickly and clearly.
Time after time, I practiced coming up with an entire clear and powerful presentation with less than a minute of prep time (sometimes with none). But I had no idea just how well that was preparing me for the professional world. I owe to impromptu speaking most of my abilities to interview well, give good presentations, speak effectively to customers, manage strategically, and sell products. It also makes writing and preparing speeches and presentations a whole lot faster.
5. Impromptu makes you present.
When I have speeches to prepare, I never write them out or even outline them in much detail anymore. I just quickly list the basic points, support, and illustrations I’m going to use. When you read a speech, or recite a memorized one, it’s very easy to get distracted and to become fairly mindless. Not only does that make your message feel less sincere to yourself, it also makes your listeners (whether in a speech or a conversation) feel a little disconnected. Impromptu keeps you deeply engaged. Your speech becomes genuine. It gives you a powerful presence.
6. Impromptu speaking makes you feel accomplished.
Face it, public speaking is listed by Americans above death as the greatest fear. And if you think reciting a memorized speech is scary, try giving one with no preparation. But all that just means overcoming this fear makes you feel incredibly accomplished and empowered.
7. Impromptu speaking makes you better at communication and persuasion.
Mastering the ability to speak strategically and powerfully, in the moment, without time to prepare–that mastery will make you incredibly adept at communicating and persuading, in every situation, for the rest of your life. That is a skill worth having!
Impromptu speaking is a discipline, a sport, and a skill worth mastering!
But after only a year or two of practice, I was in love with impromptu speaking. It changed who I was, how I felt about myself, how effectively I communicated.
Do yourself a favor and try it. But if you’re going to try it once, commit to yourself to try it at least 5 times. Know that your first couple times you’ll be miserable. But by that fifth time, you might just start feeling the thrill of being a quick thinker and effective communicator.