The Impromptu Speech for Business and Politics

I believe it was Grover Cleveland who said that there was never an impromptu speech for which he was not prepared. Yet I have watched politicians and business types freeze up when asked to give an impromptu speech in a meeting.

Nothing is more frightening than being singled out during a meeting to give an impromptu speech. What am I going to say? What if I do not know the topic? What if I freeze up?

There are 10 general rules concerning the impromptu speech that will make it easier for you.

 1) You usually have five minutes. If the main presenter is good, she will give you a warning that you will be call upon to present something about a project you are working on.

If you do not have five minutes, choose three points you would like to make and stick to them. If you think of number four during your presentation, leave it alone.

 2) K.I.S.S. – Keep it short and simple. You will be given about five to 10 minutes to speak. This means that you should only summarize the topic at hand and not get into detail. If detail is wanted, you will be asked after you are finished.

3) T.S.T.S.T. – Thank the person who introduced you – Summarize what you are going to tell the audience – Tell them – Summarize what you told them – Thank the audience. It is a basic format of any good speech providing a pre-opening, opening, body and closing. Remember, your opening and closing can be the same information.

4) Why You? In some cases, it is a test if you actually know what is happening in your department and if you are articulate enough to explain what is happening in your department.

Or your presentation may be part of the promotion process. Either way, making a good impression is key to the process.

5) Make some notes. If you have the five minutes to prepare, jot down some factoids that will make you sound like you know what you are talking about. Your statistics do not have to be exact, but close enough for you to say something like “Approximately…” or “About…”

Refer to your notes when you get lost. I have used napkins to jot down notes. Some of my younger colleagues use their smartphones. It really does not matter. In fact, it makes you look smarter.

6) If stuck on information, refer to others in the audience who are experts in the field or on your team. “Sam Schwartz has been working in this field for a long time and can provide more accurate information. However, here is an overview of what we are doing.”

Again, by referring to the subject matter experts in the audience, the SMEs, you are saying I may not know the information, but I know where I can find it.

7) For the politician, it is having the five minute stump speech ready. You are attending a meeting on a specific topic, so have a presentation prepared to answer any question thrown your way.

8) Bring a glass of water or your coffee up to the podium so you can take a sip when you get lost, stumble or simply have a dry throat. This and your notes are your version of the Linus blanket.

9) When you are done, you are done. Even if you have talk for three minutes of your allotted five, do not try to fill the remaining time with minutia.

If it looks like you are going to go over your allotted time, ask for permission from your host. Unless there is a severe time restriction, you will be allowed to continue and it makes you look more professional.

10) Do NOT ask for questions. You do not want to make it look like you are taking over the meeting. Allow your host to make that request.

If you do get questions, answer them carefully. Here is where honesty is the best policy. If you do not know the answer to a question, refer it to the host or an SME in the audience. If you do not know who the SME is, tell the questioner that you will find the answer and get back with them. And do get back to the person. The only reason not to respond is your own death.

These are some basic rules for the impromptu speech. For more information or to help you get ready for that formal presentation, please feel free to contact us at

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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