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.
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