How to speak without notes, off the cuff

Speaking without notes or ‘off the cuff’ is a prospect that can terrify both amateur and experienced speakers. And yet, in boardrooms, meetings and at networking events we are increasingly required to speak on demand.

So what’s the best way to get through this?

Before we go any further it’s worth saying you should always expect to be called upon to speak. And if you can do your homework and get abreast of what that meeting’s agenda is, or what that networking event’s theme is, even if you’re not able to make detailed notes, you are far less likely to be lost for words if the spotlight gets turned on you.

And what if you are called upon to speak?

The formula below can help you devise a mini-speech or a robust response to a question, on the fly. Work through each element aloud and you’ll be a master improviser in no time …

Bottom line – What’s the one thing you want to say in one sentence?
E.g. If I’m asked to talk about my company I might say, ‘Vensa Coaching helps people build their public speaking skills.’ 

Three supporting points – What three things can flesh out / back up that first sentence?
E.g. I might talk about how we offer one-to-one-coaching, bespoke corporate workshops and put out a blog to help people up their speaking game.

Optimistic summary – How can you sum up what you just said in one or two sentences?
E.g. I could say, ‘We have a variety of different ways to help people build their speaking skills – whether they’re just dipping their toe in the water on our blog or really diving in with coaching, we can get them where they want to be.’

Call to action – What can the audience do if they want to learn more?
E.g. I might say, ‘If you’d like to learn more, do come and speak to me after the event’.

A great way to remember this is to think ‘B-toc’. That’s the first letter of each element. 

If you can go through the formula and cover each of these elements in your speech, chances are you’re doing a pretty good job. 

And what if you’re really struggling to think on your feet?

Pause, take a deep breath, have a sip of water and try to compose yourself. If the words still aren’t coming, no problem! In 99% of cases it’s absolutely fine to say ‘I’m just collecting my thoughts on this – could you come back to me in a minute?’ and allow the conversation to continue. This buys you some time to formulate a good response.

As with everything practice makes perfect and it can help to try B-toc out at home on some random topics you have some knowledge of, but perhaps haven’t spoken about before.

Best of luck and let us know how you get on!

Image credit:  Tammie6123 / Wikimedia Commons

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