Talking Off the Cuff

An off-the-cuff speech is really just a few remarks made in answer to a question. It’s a mini-speech, if you will.

Nevertheless, it is a form of public speaking and sends many people into a mental panic. It can give you that “deer in the headlights” feeling.

Believe it or not, there are ways to handle it without panicking.

The Power of Threes

You can harness the power of threes in a couple of different ways.

ONE: Think about your reply as having three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Depending on your situation, your beginning might just be thanking the person who invited you to speak.

John, thanks for the question/chance to speak/etc.

The middle can be a few sentences that answer the question put to you. For example:

It has been my experience that colleges who evaluate their students’ performance and make meaningful changes have a higher number of students who graduate. Last year the faculty agreed to add the same statement about the course outcomes to their syllabi and discuss them in class the first day so that student would have a better chance at remember the goals for the course

You can wrap it up by thanking the person who asked you to speak or adding by a concluding sentence.

TWO: Focus on your remarks as a mini speech that has three points. Just have we have discussed in talking about a full-length speech, off-the-cuff remarks can be composed of three points. You can thank the person who asked for your opinion or you can begin by launching right into the first point.

Thanks, John. Our department has used three methods to collect data from potential clients with varying rates of success. Cold calling, email, and networking.

THREE: Now that you have verbally outlined you points, you can briefly talk about each one before wrapping it up.

 It’s Not All About You

And that’s a good thing! Why were you called on to speak? Most likely it was because you have knowledge or expertise that others need.

Your opinion is valued, which means the battle is already won! There is no need to prove to your colleagues or peers that you are an important part of the team.

Rather than focusing on yourself and your fear, focus on your audience and on answering the question that was asked. You may have a few seconds while walking up front to a podium or while you are thanking the group or person for asking you to say a few words.

Use that time to quickly consider their perspective and what knowledge they are lacking, then use one of the three-point strategies as you speak.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Again

Take every opportunity you can to practice off-the-cuff speaking. If you are member of Toastmasters, be sure to participate in Table Topics whenever you can.

As with anything else, repetition results in greater skill and increased confidence.

Join the conversation for more great information in my weekly emails and let me know about any tips you have to share!

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Being Positive Makes Your Speech More Successful

It’s easy to forget that having a generally positive outlook on life affects us in many ways. We talk about getting up on the wrong side of bed or seeing the glass half empty or full.

It’s also easy to let a bad mood dictate how our day will go, how we will treat other people, and how we are perceived by our friends, family, and colleagues.

It naturally follows, then, that a positive attitude reflects well on us when we are speaking to others. So what can we do to “be of good cheer” more often?

Let’s take a look at some time-honored advice on the subject that has held up over the decades for very good reasons…the ideas behind them work!

Make a Choice

Fake it till you make it” is an old cliché that actually works! There is a great deal of research that proves that a sincere smile elevates mood and lowers stress, including one study mentioned at

A genuine smile, scientifically known as a Duchenne smile, has much more impact than a forced one.

Guillaume Dechenne was a mid-19th century French neurologist who made the observation that a genuine smile uses muscles around both the mouth and the eyes, where as a forced one does not engage the eye muscles.

Use of the mouth and eye muscles when smiling, it was noted, can impact brain waves which in turn, may elevate mood.

Practicing a genuine smile when you aren’t in the best of moods can change your mindset and improve your outlook on the world and those around you. This will come through to others whether you are in one-on-one conversations, or addressing a group of people.

Make a Difference

Volunteering to help others can give our own emotions a boost. We sometimes hear people say that they “get more than they give” when they volunteer. They are usually referring to the gratitude that comes from those you are helping.

We also know that volunteering can help reduce stress and calm our nerves.

A few years ago, I spoke with a friend whose wife had left him on Christmas Eve just a year into their marriage.

He went to his church and spoke with his pastor who listened to him as he talked and cried, then as part of a suggested escape he sent him out to deliver meals that the church had prepared for those who couldn’t afford to feed themselves.

My friend reported that the act of helping others during his own crisis boosted his spirits and helped him get through the most difficult night of his life.

It’s Your Turn

The next time your day gets off to a less-than-ideal start, take a moment to refocus yourself and think about what you have to be grateful for. Then try an out-loud laugh to get a genuine smile on your face. You should feel at least a small difference right away!

Seek ways to give back to your community by donating your time to a local project or cause. The good you give to others will come back to you many times over.

I encourage you to join the conversation on the wide variety of simple techniques you can use to improve your speaking skill through my weekly newsletter.

Let me know what you think!

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How to Develop An Effective Speaking Voice

Welcome back! I hope you’re getting ready for a wonderful holiday season. I’m here today to talk with you about your speaking voice.

When giving a presentation, people are often focused on how they are dressed and what the audience will think of their appearance. Their voice frequently takes a back seat and only becomes noticed when they start talking and don’t like what they hear. It’s easy to let nerves and emotions overwhelm you and have a negative impact on how you sound.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can improve your voice and use it as an effective part of your public speaking tool kit. What happens when you are asked to give a presentation or know you need to have a difficult conversation and are nervous about it?

Fighting Your Nerves

The first thing that many people experience is butterflies in the stomach and a feeling of nervousness, often well in advance of their speech. The earlier you gain control of your nerves, the more confident your voice will sound when the time comes for you to speak.

One way to do this is through breathing. Whenever you feel nervous about your upcoming talk, try this: breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Controlled breathing helps lower your heartbeat and calm your nerves. Use this technique shortly before you take the stage to steady your nerves and voice.

Know Your Material

Preparation is an important factor in developing a memorable speaking voice. Be sure you know your material inside and out and are able to talk about it without your notes. This kind of in depth knowledge allows your brain to relax and your voice to sound steady and confident when you speak.

Hit the Brakes

Next is speed, a problem for many less-experienced speakers. Talking so fast that people can’t understand you is one of your body’s responses to fear. Your brain wants you to get through the speech as quickly as possible in order to get you off the stage and away from being the focus of a crowd. It’s related to the fight or flight affect you are likely familiar with.

Practice and experience are your best weapons against speed. When you are rehearsing, try this: say a series of numbers aloud and write them in the air with your finger as you talk. This is about the speed at which you should speak. Work on matching this speed with the pace of your words as your practice.

Adjust the Volume

Finally, adjust your vocal volume to the size of your audience. Next time you speak to a group, pay particular attention to the audience and their body language. Is anyone in the back straining to hear you? Or is your voice too loud for the people in the front? If you are using a microphone, you may need to adjust it. If not, make use of the space to move around as you talk and make sure you volume allows everyone to hear you.

Take a look at Robert Love’s tips on how to use the proper volume.

I would like you to try out the four-second breathing technique we discussed above. You can use it to calm your nerves in any stressful situation, not just public speaking. The more you use it, the better you will be at calming yourself before a public speaking event.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. And if you have more tips on improving your speaking voice, I would love to hear them.

Send me an email and tell me your tips!

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Using Humor In Your Speech

Learning how to effectively intertwine humor in your speech is essential to establishing yourself as a notable speaker. We all want to entertain our audience effortlessly but you need to use sound judgement when using humor; sometimes it is appropriate and sometimes it is not.

Using humor can be effective in almost any speech, it can be a good way to break up tension or lighten up the mood. It can also be used to break the ice; speakers that employ humor connect quicker with their audience and are deemed more likable by their listeners.

“Humor is treacherous. It can charm, coax, and persuade, but it can also distract, baffle or alienate the audience.” Eugene Finerman

Also, you can use humor to add variety to your speech to keep your audience interested. Weave in jokes or a funny, small story or anecdote to your topic to keep the flow of information balanced.

However, you should always make sure that your joke fits in with your topic. No matter how funny that joke was that you heard the night before, refrain from using it if it does not apply to your topic.

How to Use Humor

  • Plan your humor according to your audience– The professional level and overall age of your listeners will play a huge part in what will be appropriate and conversely what might be offensive. What listeners will find funny will vary with different groups, so do your research beforehand.
  • Laugh at yourself– Although no wants to see you put yourself down constantly in your speech, the audience does like to see some vulnerability in the form of humor. You can add this by telling a funny story about something that actually happened to you and this will increase your credibility with your audience by making you seem more real.
  • Keep working at it– Using humor in a speech can be difficult, proper use takes time to develop. Try to use steady and gradual improvement to avoid a “flop” and major

How Not to Use Humor

  • Do not try too hard- We have all witnessed someone that uses humor or tries to tell a joke that clearly was recycled from someone else and it is awkward. If you try to use humor that is not your style, it just doesn’t work and is not funny.
  • Do Not Make the audience the “butt” of your jokes – Nobody wants to be the target of anyone’s jokes, it is offensive to most people.
  • Be on the safe side – Do not make jokes about race, sex, religion or politics. For most people, these are sensitive subjects and should be left out of your jokes.

The Video Use Humor in Speechs by Toastmasters International shows you some do’s and do not’s of using humor in your speech.

Implementing humor in your speech is not easy and can be very intimidating. However, if used correctly you can create rapport with your listeners or if used incorrectly you can create a wedge.

My challenge to you is to break out of your comfort zone and use these tips in your next speech to engage your audience and make them laugh!

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