Impromptu Speaking: How to Prepare and Feel Confident in Any Situation with Carol Cox: Podcast Ep. 390


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Are you the kind of speaker who loves to have everything prepared in advance? Perhaps you even have your entire presentation scripted out nearly word for word and you have detailed notes for every slide that you rely on?

Well, I have a challenge for you: getting more comfortable with impromptu speaking.

As a speaker and as a leader, both impromptu and prepared speaking skills are a must.

Have you ever had one of these situations happen to you:

You’re in a meeting or group and asked to share something on the spot. You get really nervous and feel at a loss for words.

You’re at a networking event where you need to concisely share with other attendees who you are, what you do, and how you help people. After you introduce yourself, you realized you left out the most important parts or it all felt like a jumble.

You’re leading a meeting where you need to motivate your team, but you didn’t have an opportunity to prepare your message ahead of time and feel like you weren’t as clear or confident as you want to be.

This is why developing your impromptu speaking skills is essential. 

I want more women – including you! – to feel comfortable and confident commanding a room and leading teams, organizations, and companies.

In this episode, I share:

  • Why impromptu speaking is hard
  • Why it matters to your development as a speaker and leader
  • Specific things you can do to get better at impromptu speaking
  • Some of my own impromptu speaking wins and fails!

Here’s the speaking segment I filmed with no practice, no notes, and no re-do’s that I talked about in this episode. You can do this too!

About Us: The Speaking Your Brand podcast is hosted by Carol Cox. At Speaking Your Brand, we help women entrepreneurs and professionals clarify their brand message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power because it’s through women’s stories, voices, and visibility that we challenge the status quo and change existing systems. Check out our coaching programs at


Show notes at 

Discover your Speaker Archetype by taking our free quiz at

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390-SYB-Solo-Impromptu-Speaking.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

390-SYB-Solo-Impromptu-Speaking.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Carol Cox:
How comfortable are you thinking and speaking on your feet? That’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Speaking Your Brand podcast. More and more women are making an impact by starting businesses, running for office and speaking up for what matters. With my background as a TV political analyst, entrepreneur and speaker, I interview and coach purpose driven women to shape their brands, grow their companies, and become recognized as influencers in their field. This is speaking your brand, your place to learn how to persuasively communicate your message to your audience. Hi there and welcome to the Speaking Your Brand podcast. I’m your host, Carol Cox. Are you the type of speaker who loves to have your entire presentation scripted out? You have it pretty much word for word in a document, and then you have your slides. And then in the notes section underneath the slides, you have all of your notes for each slide. Well, in this episode, I’m going to challenge you to think differently about your speaking and your presentations. I really want you to embrace impromptu speaking. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re not going to prepare for your presentations. You are. But I want you to get more practice being able to think and speak on your feet. Because have you ever had one of these situations happen to you? Number one, you’re in a meeting or you’re in a group and you’re asked to share something on the spot.

Carol Cox:
Maybe they’re going around the room and they want everyone to answer a question, and you’re the first person that they select. And so what usually happens is that you get really nervous. You feel at a loss for words, and maybe you mumble something, but you don’t feel like it was a great answer. Or number two, you’re at a networking event where you need to concisely share with the other people there who you are, what you do, and how you help people. But after you introduce yourself, you realize that you left out the most important part, or it felt just like a jumble. Or number three, you’re leading a meeting where you need to motivate your team, but you didn’t have an opportunity to prepare your message ahead of time. And so afterwards, you feel like you weren’t as clear or you didn’t come across as confident as you wanted to be. So regardless of how prepared you feel for the presentations that you give, where you have your outline on your slides, you still want to be as equally prepared for those situations that I just described. And yes, I realize this is an oxymoron to feel like you are prepared for impromptu speaking, but you absolutely can be. And as a leader and as a speaker, you really need to hone both your prepared and your impromptu speaking skills. So in this episode, I’m going to share with you why impromptu speaking is hard.

Carol Cox:
Especially hard for us high achieving women. Why impromptu speaking matters so much to your development as a speaker and as a leader. Specific things you can do to get better at impromptu speaking, and I’m going to share some of my own impromptu speaking wins and fails. If you’re new to the podcast, welcome here at Speaking Your Brand. We work with women entrepreneurs and professionals to clarify their brand message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power, because we know that change comes through women’s stories, voices, visibility, and leadership. I’m going to talk about this more at the end of the episode, but we have a brand new live online workshop that we’ve created to help you build your speaking confidence, including these impromptu speaking skills. Again, we’re going to I’m going to share more information about that at the end of this episode. You want to make sure to listen until the end, because I have a special coupon code for you to save on this workshop just for podcast listeners. Now let’s get on with the show. What exactly does impromptu mean? I looked it up on and here’s the definition made or done without previous preparation. And the example that gave is an impromptu address to the unexpected crowds. Another definition is something that suddenly or hastily prepared or made, like an impromptu dinner.

Carol Cox:
And the third definition is improvised, having the character of an improvisation. And we’re going to come back to improv in just a little bit, but made or done without previous preparation. And I think that’s what scares us the most. Why is impromptu speaking so hard? Why do we fear it so much, and why do we feel like we’re not good at thinking and speaking on our feet? I believe it’s because for those of us who are high achieving women, we’re so used to being good at the things that we do, and we generally we do the things that we’re already good at. We did well in school, we’ve done well in our professional careers and in our businesses, and a lot of that has to do with preparation. We’ve studied for the exams, we made sure we did our homework on time and we were validated and we were encouraged for doing so. So that’s why now when we put together our presentations and our talks and our keynotes, we. You want to make sure that our outline is filled out, that we have all of the notes, maybe even an entire script for it. All of our slides are done as well, because we’re afraid we’re not going to know what to say if we don’t have everything scripted out. If we don’t have all of our notes and slides, we don’t want to mess up that perfectionism streak, I know runs really strong and a lot of us, and we want to say the exact right thing.

Carol Cox:
This is why when we work with our clients and our thought leader Academy, and we’ve done their VIP to create their signature talk, and then their homework is to take what we’ve written on the post-it notes and then transcribe it into an outline. And some of them want to write out their entire talk. And we’re talking, you know, 35, 45 minute talk, an entire talk. They want to write it all out word for word. And we tell them that that number one, that’s going to be really hard, because you’re not going to want to memorize a talk that that’s long. Number two is going to take you out of the present moment. If you’re trying to remember what you wrote on your for your talk, instead of just engaging with the audience. And number three, you’re not going to come across as natural and authentic when you’re actually delivering the presentation to your audience. But I know, especially for those who are writers and yes, I see you. I know who you are, that you want to write everything out, and the reason you want to write everything out, I believe, is because you know that if you can put pen to paper, typewriter to the Google doc, that you’re going to come up with the exact right words, the exact right thing to say to your audience.

Carol Cox:
And I’m here to tell you that there are no magic words to say to your audience. Instead, it’s about understanding where your audience is and having empathy for them, validating where they’re at. It’s not about having all the right answers, or having those magic words or the perfect thing to say. It’s about asking the big questions and helping your audience to understand what are the big questions? What are the conversations that need to be had? It’s about you as the speaker and you as the leader, contributing to the conversation that’s going on in the present moment. If everything that you do is always scripted and always prepared in advance, what if something has happened that day or the day before? You need to address it in your presentation, in your talk for that audience, how are you going to have the agility, the skill set to do that? It’s also about recognizing the energy and the mood of your audience and adjusting as necessary. If your audience is really high energy in the moment, you want to make sure that you keep that energy up. In contrast, if your audience is really reflective, something’s going on. Maybe they have low energy because they just got back from lunch or a really hard session. You want to make sure that you’re recognizing that and addressing it and then lifting their energy, if that’s the appropriate thing to do.

Carol Cox:
I talk more about this in episode 382 from a couple of months ago called Three Signs You’re Stuck in the Expert Trap, so I highly recommend that episode as well. This is why getting better at impromptu speaking matters to you both as a speaker and as a leader, because you’re really there to lead your audience, to guide your audience to understanding where they’re at and then where they want to go. I was on the debate team when I was in high school, and I did Model United Nations in college, and I’ve been on live TV so many times that I’ve lost count. So I had to get used very, very quickly to thinking and speaking on my feet. And I learned very quickly that there are no magic words, and there is no way that I would be able to have a prepared script when my when I go on live TV, unlike the anchors, I don’t get a teleprompter with a script that’s been written out in front of me. But there was a time when I was on live TV when I was asked a question, and for the first time in all of the segments I had been on. I stopped my literally, my mouth would not open and I didn’t have an answer for the first time. And I think I sat there for about 10s. Now, luckily, we were recording a segment that was going to air the next morning, so this wasn’t actually live.

Carol Cox:
Most of the time that I was on TV, it was actually being broadcast live in real time, but this one wasn’t. And the reason that I was stumped for 10s is that was the night of the 2016 election, and we all know how that went. It was about 11:30 p.m. that night, and it was clear that Hillary Clinton was not going to become the first woman president, as I and so many other women in this country had wanted to happen. And I was in a state of shock. A lot of the other people in the newsroom, I could tell, were in a state of shock. And so we were again filming a segment that was going to air the next morning, kind of just talking about what had happened and what was going to be coming next. So the reporter who I worked with the whole year, you know, we were sitting in the studio getting ready to record this segment. And so we start and he asked me, I don’t even remember what the question is. He asked me the question, and I just sat there and like I said, like my I just didn’t have any words. I was at a loss for words because of that shock to the system. But very quickly I recovered and I just went on to to say my piece for the segment. But I’m sharing this story to let you know that all of us have those moments at some time, and the more times you speak, the more times you go on TV, the more interviews you do.

Carol Cox:
There probably will come a time when you’re at a loss for words or you are stumped by something. And so to me, it matters less about finding the magic words, and that in that situation then how you respond to yourself, how do you treat yourself? What kind of grace and compassion do you give to yourself in those moments? Or if you see someone else who’s in that situation, how much grace and compassion do you give to them? So here are some specific things you can do to get better at impromptu speaking, and to feel more confident thinking and speaking on your feet. The first thing is to practice, practice, practice, practice sharing your key stories and your key points. Often, being a guest on podcasts, doing podcast interviews is a great way to do this, as is hosting your own podcast. I’ve been doing this podcast for over seven years. This is episode 390, so I definitely have gotten more comfortable sharing my stories and my key points. Same thing with doing podcast interviews. And so have your your key stories for your story bank and have your framework and your key points. You can have some notes for you, but then go do those podcast interviews and just start sharing the same key stories and the same key points over and over again.

Carol Cox:
As I always remind our clients, you know your own stories, you know your own content, you know your own framework. This is why we recommend for your framework that you have an acronym or an alliteration or a visual shape. It helps you remember it as much as it helps your audience to remember it. But you know your stories. You know your material. If I were to come to you and ask you to share a particular story, you could do it just like you were having lunch with a friend and sharing that story. So as you’re going to your more prepared speaking engagements, your presentations try to rely less and less on having a full outline with a whole bunch of notes. Try to rely less and less on the notes section of your slides. That bottom section I actually I don’t use it at all. You really don’t need it. Use the slides as your visual guide, your own visual guide, or the audience visual guide as well, and rely less and less on your on the text, on the content of your slides. You really shouldn’t have a lot of text on your slides to begin with. Now here’s an example of the power of having practiced sharing your stories and your key points often. Just this past February, we held our three day in person client retreat where we brought together 12 women for three days, where we practiced for the first two days, and the third day they filmed the speaking segments that they had practiced so that they would have it for their speaker.

Carol Cox:
Real well, on the morning of that third day. Diane and I also were going to film a few of our own speaking segments. So these speaking segments are about five minutes long. Well, leading up to the retreat, I kind of had an idea of what segments I wanted to film. I wanted to film one with props, I wanted to film one with some audience engagement and so on. But that morning of that third day, I was taking a shower to get ready, and all of a sudden this story popped into my mind. The story of that not great TEDx talk that I gave back in October of 2016, and I’ve talked about it here on the podcast, most recently back at the beginning of March for Women’s History Month. So as I was taking the shower that morning, kind of that I was thinking about that speaking engagement, and all of a sudden I realized the story I had been telling myself about that speaking fail was actually not quite right. Well, it was right, but there was much more to the story. So I started kind of thinking about this in my mind, and then I started framing how I was going to deliver the speaking segment.

Carol Cox:
So how was I going to open? What parts of the story was I going to share, and then how was I going to end it? So I did all this and the, you know, the five minutes that I was in the shower. So we get to that day three, you know, we’re getting everything ready. The film crew is there and all that. And then Diane and I are ready to to film our segment. So we filmed some segments together. And then I was like, okay, I’m just going to go ahead and go for this. I haven’t practiced it at all. I had zero notes. Nothing had written out whatsoever, just what I had thought of that morning. So I get up there and I deliver the whole thing with no pausing, no redos whatsoever. Five minutes now, looking back at it, there were there are some things that I would change about it, but very minor. No one else would notice it. But that is the power of impromptu speaking. That is the power of knowing your stories. That’s also the power of understanding our framework of how to give a great talk and our ideal story ingredients, both of which you’ll learn in that workshop we have coming up. So that’s the first thing. Practice sharing your stories and your key points as often as you can in different venues. The second thing is do not memorize. Instead, engage with your audience.

Carol Cox:
Truly connect with them. Look around, see who’s in that room. Think about what would help them that you can share. And this is especially true for those impromptu speaking moments where you’re leading an organization and you have just a couple of minutes and you need to kind of rally the troops, or you’re leading a team, you need to rally the troops, really look at them, understand what is it? What is their goal, what do they need and what can you share with them in that moment that’s going to help them and help you and help whatever the cause is or whatever the common goal is, help you all to achieve that. You can’t memorize that in advance. You really have to engage and connect. Now, if you’re in a situation where you need to remember to thank certain people or sponsors, you can have an index card where you’ve just jotted down those names. And so that you have that that index card, you can use both front and back if you need to, to have that much information on it. But that way you can just stick it in your pocket when you’re done with using the index card. Or you can set it aside. I don’t recommend that you put your notes on your phone. I see a lot of speakers do this as they have their phone and they put notes on there, so they’re kind of scrolling as they’re reading their notes.

Carol Cox:
The problem with that is that having the phone out really does disconnect you from your audience. Also, you don’t know if all of a sudden you’re going to get a phone call or a text notification or something on your phone while you’re scrolling that’s going to interrupt you. You don’t know. All of a sudden someone you know needs to say something or ask a question. Then your phone locks, and then you have to unlock it before you can continue. And then you have to figure out where am I going to put the phone when I’m done with this. So you leave it in your hand. So it’s just not a good idea. Just have an index card instead and really engage with the audience. Ask them some questions. Show of hands. Questions out loud. Questions. Make it about all. All. Make it about everyone. Not just don’t just put the pressure on you as the as the speaker. Third thing to do to get better in impromptu speaking and feel more confident is to take an improv class. Now, I know you’ve heard us talk about this a lot, especially over the past year, but it really is so good to get you out of your head and into your body, and to recognize that you can be silly. You can be on a stage in front of people and not have all the answers. You can be on a stage in front of a bunch of people and not literally not know what’s coming next, or what the person’s going to say next, and you’re going to be okay.

Carol Cox:
That was the biggest lesson that I got from improv is that you’re going to be okay. So again, practice sharing your stories and your key points often. Don’t memorize. Instead, engage and connect and take that improv class to get out of your head and into your body. Now, if you would like to work with us on building your speaking confidence and these impromptu speaking skills, this is what we’re doing in our brand new live online workshop. We truly create a safe environment for all the women that we work with. This is what we hear a time and time again from the clients who work with us, and our thought Leader Academy and the other workshops that we’ve done is they they really feel like they have a safe environment where they can try new things, they can share their stories and get our feedback. So you’re going to learn in this workshop how to use our framework for any presentation, speech or interview you have, whether you have five minutes to prepare or five weeks to prepare, you’re going to learn specific techniques you can use to keep your audience interested and engaged.

Carol Cox:
You’re going to learn our storytelling framework and our ideal story ingredients, and you’re going to have lots of time to practice your storytelling and practice sharing your brand message. And you’ll get feedback and coaching from us so you can quickly develop these impromptu speaking skills and build your confidence. You can get all the details and you can register as speaking your Again, that’s speaking your brand. Com slash speaking dash workshop. There’s a link in the show notes so you can click on that link as well. And the coupon code just for podcast listeners like you to save $100 on this workshop is the code Podcast100. So all together no spaces Podcast100. So just put the coupon code Podcast100 in the registration form when you sign up. It’s going to be a fun workshop and you’re going to find that having the the mini trainings, the practice and the feedback and coaching really is going to accelerate your speaking skills. The reason we’re doing this workshop is because it aligns with our mission. We want more women out there speaking up leading organizations and companies and being interviewed on podcasts and on TV, and I want you to be one of those women. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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