dsc05799By David Dante CC, 2016 District 27 Table Topics Champion

Why are so many people tremendously terrified of impromptu speaking? This form of speaking is a subset of public speaking and as many as 75% of people are afraid of public speaking. I imagine this number is higher when it comes to improvised speaking.

Generally, individuals feel public speaking is giving a prepared speech, such as a keynote address (Toastmasters is a good place to work on this skill). Impromptu speaking is speaking off the cuff, whether it will be delivering a speech or simply answering a question (Toastmasters is a good place to work on this skill too). In either case “off the cuff” refers to the speaker having very little or no time to prepare. For example, I have observed fellow Toastmasters stumble and fumble their way through answering a spontaneous interview question after presenting amazing prepared speeches at competitions. I have even heard some interviewees start answering the question with a statement like “I hate Table Topics [a short improvised speech]; I am really bad at them.” I can empathize where these speakers are coming from.

When I first joined Toastmasters, I was keenly aware of my fear of public speaking, glossophobia. The first time I did a Table Topic I felt like I wanted to heave my cookies, my hands were wringing wet, my legs and arms were shaking, and thoughts were racing through my head so fast I could not comprehend them. Talk about fight, flight, or freeze. I was experiencing flight or freeze. I imagine this is how many people feel when doing table topics for the first time and possibly in many unplanned speaking situations. There is a psychological theory behind this and if you are interested, check out Glenn Croston’s Ph.D. blog.

I want to touch upon what I do to overcome this phobia and how my experience may be helpful for you. For me, one of the important actions I take pertaining to impromptu speaking is to implement the Nike slogan “Just do it”. Toastmasters is a fantastic environment to apply this slogan because it is a safe place to experiment pushing our boundaries beyond our speaking comfort zones. Fellow Toastmasters are nurturing by providing helpful feedback to encourage our improvement. In addition to just doing it, I do it often! Repetition is a tool that will assist us to grow in our spontaneous speaking. You will be developing the skill of impromptu speaking by exercising the muscles needed for it.

Improvised speaking can be performed in any meeting role at a Toastmasters meeting, for instance the timer may define the timing lights descriptively (for example the bright shamrock green light) or tell a brief story about what the role of the timer is (for example I’m the meter-maid of time and I provide the speaker with warning signs).

As we move on, I like to have fun, do you? I am going out on a limb here and assuming your answer is “YES!” I imagine when an activity is fun you cannot wait to do it again. It is as if there is a yearning from your entire being to engage and connect with that activity. You may experience goose bumps on your arms or a warmth expanding in your chest, or any other multitude of physical sensations in your body when thinking about that activity. As such, another important aspect to impromptu speaking for me is to have fun with it while participating in the Toastmasters meetings and in life! If you consider unplanned speaking drudgery or insanely hard work or tell yourself you are just bad at it, I imagine the experiences you have may feel painful in some way, shape, or form rather than fun. When I am feeling that sense of joy while engaged in unrehearsed speaking, it helps me want to do it again, and again, and again.

Mental preparation is another aspect of impromptu speaking that is important me wherever I am. Being able to keep a clear mind or have the ability to clear your mind quickly is a great skill to have for impromptu speaking. It is a great skill to have anywhere for anything for that matter. One way I do this mental preparation is to take a deep breath before responding. The breath is not one as in exacerbation or frustration rather it is a quiet slow belly breath. It only needs to last about three to five seconds. I accomplish this without exhibiting it. This deep belly breath creates just enough space for your brain to clear and begin to find a response to the question.

Impromptu speaking is a useful life skill to hone. Breathe, have fun, and “Just do it!”