How to Do Impromptu Presentations Well
- Breathe – Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can do this well. Great presenters are confident. Self-doubt is “head trash” and doesn’t help you at all.
- Repeat the Question – The first thing you should do is summarize the request. If you’ve ever seen a beauty pageant or media interview, well-trained communicators repeat the question because it does buy you some time so your brain can think. Also, this repetition ensures that you understood the question or request.
- Make a Mental Outline – Get your thoughts together and think about what you plan to say before you say it. Focus on the order of your message. Mentally review how you will organize your talking points. I suggest either doing them chronologically (or the reverse) or spatially, such as building a house from the foundation up to the roof.
When I worked at the zoo, I regularly gave impromptu presentations at festivals or when casually talking to visitors. I developed a “circular method” where I’d start at the animal’s head and spoke about different characteristics down to the animal’s tail or feet. Once at the bottom, I’d start over. This method helped keep me organized and because there was no clear beginning or end to the impromptu presentations, visitors could walk up when I spoke about the hawk’s flight feathers and stay for a few minutes until I got back to that part of the bird’s body without feeling like they missed something.
- Talk a Bit Slow – You don’t need to make an exaggerated change in your speed like someone hit the slo-mo button on a moving, but generally presenters talk faster than normal. When you’re a bit nervous doing an impromptu presentation, you will speak even faster. Consciously speak slower so you actually talk at a normal pace. Talking slower will also help you formulate what you’re going to say next in your brain so you.
- It’s Okay to Have a Mishap – If you realize that you misspoke about something, take a pause, and correct yourself. Since the presentation is the spur of the moment, no one is expecting anything rehearsed or perfect. You don’t have to admit that you made a mistake. Instead say, “Let me clarify something I mentioned earlier to prevent any confusion.”
- Mentally Debrief to Yourself – When you sit down, take another deep breath because you’re done. Take a minute to think about what you did well and where you could have improved on a few things. You don’t need to do anything formal, just do it in your head.
Most importantly, remember a presentation is just a conversation, especially when it comes to impromptu presentations. Make eye contact with your audience and look at them as friends because eye contact will calm your nerves. (I know that sounds counterintuitive if you haven’t tried it, but research verified this fact multiple times.) Usually, an impromptu presentation is an answer to a question or when someone asks for you to elaborate on something that is your expertise.
Also, the more you present, the more comfortable you’ll be with impromptu presentations because your mechanics (how you physically deliver a presentation) will become more fluid and natural. You’ll deliver presentations more confidently over time, including have better eye contact.
The most important aspect of impromptu presentations is to relax, be yourself, and answer the request as best you can.
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