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Speakers “Stand and Deliver” to Stay on their Toes


By Claudia Brogan

I recently talked with my high school-age nephew about a public speaking class he is taking. He seemed puzzled about how or why people might ever consider doing public speaking, or taking on speaking assignments on purpose. Like many people, my nephew Sam finds speech making to be difficult and uncomfortable. My response to him was “I really think you’ll find that the more you do it, the more natural you’ll find it to be. The more you can be yourself, the more you’ll enjoy public speaking.”

One of my favorite elements of the Toastmasters program is a practice called “Table Topics.” This is a feature in Toastmasters meetings where we improve how we speak spontaneously by responding to a question that is posed aloud. Without preparation, we take turns standing to deliver 2 – 3 minute responses which can be funny or reflective or include a personal story or offer a lesson learned about the topic raised in the question.

Numerous resources are available which can help make “speech-practice” a fun, engaging activity and help reduce the stress that participants feel. An intriguing set of prompts for public speaking practice is distributed by fluentland.com. Based on the idea that the more times one gets the chance to practice “thinking on their feet” or speaking spontaneously, the more comfortable they are likely to become, these exercises help a person come up with ideas for what they can speak about. Certainly, these tools can be readily adapted for any group. Examining the layout and format is likely to prompt creative ways to use or adapt any of these tools: they can be used in classes that you might teach, or in standing up to practice your own speaking skills. These can be used in helping your children practice their thinking and speaking skills to become good Storytellers, or even in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

The next time our Toastmasters group dedicates some time on our agenda to practice speaking extemporaneously, I plan to have this worksheet on hand as needed. It provides just enough of a starting place for a speaker to pause and reflect, to formulate a brief response, and to stand and deliver 2 – 3 minutes of remarks.

Another fun way to practice speaking is this tool based on “Movies and Television.”

What do we need to know in order to include these brief speaking opportunities into meetings, classes, or even staff sessions?

Speaking spontaneously can be improved with these techniques:

  • Challenge yourself to write a “thought-piece” each day. First pick a topic spontaneously and take five minutes to write a brief opinion, explanation, or describe an experience you’ve had. After a few days of practice (choosing a different topic for yourself each day), decrease the time you use to three minutes. After a few more days of practice, decrease the time to two minutes; write as quickly as you can. Then pause to re-read, to check whether the opinion or explanation you’ve provided makes good sense.
  • Now you are ready to “stand and deliver” with the same idea in mind: have a friend ask you a casual question, pause to digest it, make a brief plan for how you’ll respond, and deliver a brief 2 – 3 minute answer to that question.
  • Make a good effort to have a “beginning, middle and end” to your response. First, explain with your “Topic Sentence;” then deliver your example, your explanation, or your anecdote; then close with a “Moral of the Story” or summary sentence. When you practice with this simple structure, you’ll find that you help your brain to make a brief, logical, organized response to the question at hand.

Learning to speak spontaneously is a helpful skill which will be useful all our lives, in many situations, including school, work setting and even casual interactions with colleagues, supervisors and friends. We can all aim to be learning new skills so that we can “Stand and Deliver” with ease.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.