As part of my continued personal development, and to give myself regular opportunities to practise what I preach, last week I attended my first Toastmasters meeting. My local club is affiliated to Toastmasters International, which offers members a structured programme to develop public speaking skills, as well as an encouraging environment in which to practise and learn.

One of the highlights of the meeting was the ‘table topics’ section. There were eight volunteer speakers, each called upon to give a two minute, off the cuff speech on a subject given to them by the Toastmaster. My topic was ‘Which is more effective, the carrot or the stick?’. Fortunately, having ridden horses all my life, I am familiar with both carrots and sticks and so was able to have a bit of fun with my two minutes on the subject.

The experience has left me thinking about the best way to help people do well when they are put on the spot and have to speak without preparation. Here are my tips to get you through it:

  • Don’t rush to start, take a moment to get comfortable and smile at your audience. This buys you valuable thinking time.
  • Let the topic wash around your brain freely – you will be surprised how many ideas you can have in just a few seconds. Then choose just one theme to focus on.
  • Keep it personal – talk about your own experience. You will find it easier to manage your thought process and your audience will stay more engaged.
  • Take your time – pausing gives you time to think and breathe, as well as improving the delivery for your audience.
  • Open with a strong statement – to gain the audience’s attention and set you off on your thread.
  • Use the bulk of your time to expand upon or explain your opening statement, including a relevant anecdote or, if appropriate, a joke.
  • Close by linking back to either your opening statement or the topic title you were given.
  • Two minutes isn’t very long, less time than it takes to read this blog, so keep it simple and don’t try to cram too much in.
  • Enjoy it! There’s a lot of fun and satisfaction to be had from pulling off an impromptu speech!