Tips for Impromptu Speaking – Learn to Trust Yourself

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I love it when readers leave comments and ask me to write about specific topics. Recently someone said, “Hey, Gavin. This post helped me a lot. But I have a problem. I am really bad at extemporizing ..when given a topic I don’t know anything about. Would be really helpful if you could write a post on it.”

Here’s my answer!

Learn to trust your brain!

Having coached hundreds of people on impromptu speaking, I know that the number one cause of this problem is a lack of trust in their own ability to come up with something meaningful to say without preparation.

When we get put on the spot our brain will usually throw up an initial idea but, rather than going with it and seeing where it goes, most people  question whether it is “good enough” and, in so doing, block themselves. I learned this lesson myself when I attended an improvisation workshop some years ago.

Improvisation is all about  learning how to unleash your own innate creativity and the crucial first step is learning how to “turn off” your internal critic and to go with whatever idea pops into your head.

How to do it?

  • Tip one – become aware that you are blocking yourself  
    Whenever you are put on the spot and asked to speak “off the cuff”, notice what happens inside your head.  You’ll almost certainly become aware of your “internal critic” jumping in and shutting your ideas down. Don’t worry – this is natural to begin with, and becoming aware of it is the first step to unlocking your impromptu speaking ability.
  • Tip  two – practise  “accepting” your own ideas
    Imagine having a conversation with a friend who has a problem and, every time you make a suggestion, they say “Yes, but…”   The conversation wouldn’t last very long, would it? Now imagine the same conversation, but this time, every time either of you suggests something, the other says “Yes, and…”   The energy and the result would be quite different, wouldn’t it? This second approach is called acceptance. Now imagine being put on the spot in a meeting when you are asked to speak on a topic without preparation.  This time you deliberately choose to accept the first idea that your brain pops up with.  When you do this you will discover that your brain normally feeds you good ideas, and trusting your inner creativity will become easier and easier.
  • Tip three – learn about improvisation
    Do some research on the internet and, if possible, find a local improv group.  These groups, as well as putting on hilarious shows, often run workshops. You will have great fun and you will learn how to extemporise with ease, and this will make impromptu speaking much easier.
  • Tip four – find a local Toastmasters club
    Toastmasters International is a worldwide network of public speaking and leadership-development clubs.  Most clubs run a session called “Table Topics” at every meeting. Table topics is all about  improvisation and impromptu speaking and it is the perfect place to practise and develop your ability to speak off the cuff.
  • Tip five – practise self-compassion
    When practising impromptu speaking the risk is always greater than when you have prepared. Occasionally you may dry up or make a mistake. When this happens, it is all too easy to allow your internal critic to beat yourself up and to tell yourself: “I’m no good at impromptu speaking”.   Self-compassion is about forgiving yourself and recognising that “to err is human…” Everybody makes mistakes, particularly in the early sages of learning a new skill. You wouldn’t tell a child who fell over whilst he was learning to walk that he would never be any good at walking, would you? So why do we speak so harshly to ourselves? Practise self-compassion and your self-trust and impromptu speaking abilities will improve.

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Gavin Meikle – View the original post


Published On: 8th Sep 2014

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