Einstein described relativity as:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

For a lot of people, standing up and giving an impromptu speech for 1-2 minutes is exactly like putting your hand on a hot stove, that 60 seconds of agony feels like it will never end…

In Cogito we’ve found that the best way to get better at impromptu speaking is to practice it as much as you can, and we do this in our Table Topics section each meeting.

Here are 7 tactics that you can use to improve your impromptu speaking:

1. Make a Decision

When you’re asked a question, pause for a moment and ask yourself – do you agree or disagree with the question? Deciding to agree or disagree makes answering the question easier as it gives you a clear direction for your answer. Once you’ve decided, declare it to the audience i.e:“ I agree wholeheartedly”, this will make you look strong and decisive. All you need to do now is explain why you made this decision which is what we will deal with next.

2. Sound Like You Know What You’re Talking About

Once you’ve declared your direction, continue by stating “And there are three reason why”. You probably won’t have 3 reasons when you say this but doing this gives you an automatic structure to your response. It makes you appear knowledgeable and gives you a little bit of time to get your ideas in order. All you really need to do now is come up with one reason to start with, it doesn’t have to be a strong reason, just something to get you talking. Then as you start to talk, you’ll relax and another reason will come to mind and then another, all the while the audience will think you know what you’re talking about…

3. Answer Both Sides of the Question

As an alternative to making an instant decision to agree or disagree, you can adopt a measured approach to your response i.e. “This is not a simple question and to really answer it properly we need to look at both viewpoints”. The advantage of this approach is that it doubles the amount of things that you can say by allowing you state both the pros and the cons underlying the question asked. For this tactic, it is important that you wrap up well so based on the evidence that you gave for both sides, make a decision for one side or the other and use it as your conclusion, this way you end with a strong declaration and again sound like you know what you’re talking about.

4. Avoid the Question

There will be times when you can’t think of anything to say and you go blank, and that’s okay, this will happen from time to time but you still have an opportunity to stand up and practice speaking so use it by using a very simple political tactic: avoiding the question. Think of something else to talk about, something that you do feel comfortable talking about and then switch to that topic i.e. “We could talk for hours about the intricacies of tax law but lets not torture ourselves, instead let’s talk about bubbles – did you know that bubbles…..”

5. Make it Personal

It’s easier to answer questions where you’re the expert and know all about the topic, and the one area where you’re always the expert is your own life and experiences so when asked a table topics question see if you can find a way to relate the topic to your life. When you listen to the questions, ask yourself, is there a lesson or story from your life that suits the subject, if so then use it, personal stories can have a very powerful effect on your audience and since it’s your story, there’s no risk of forgetting it and going blank.

6. Lie!

If you can’t think of anything then make something up, pretend that you’re someone who knows the answer and just start talking, sometimes the key to a good table topics response is sounding confident, you can get away with a lot when you sound confident. Remember that table topics is not about telling the truth it’s about thinking on your feet and impromptu speaking so lie, steal, cheat, use every trick you know to craft a speech out of thin air, besides you probably know a lot more than you think you do.

7. Just Talk

The hardest part of impromptu speaking is that those first moments on stage, your nerves are jangling, you’re anxious that you don’t know how to answer the question and all this is preventing you from saying anything, so forget about trying to answer the question perfectly and just say anything. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t even have to be related to the topic, just talk to get going, this will help calm the nerves and the anxiety and allow your mind the time to relax and come up with a really good response to the question asked.


As you practice impromptu speaking more and more in our meetings a strange thing happens, you start to want to be chosen for a difficult or challenging question. Every question will unfold as a new opportunity for you to flex your mental muscles and create an imaginative, refreshing response, and it’ll be fun too!

The biggest secret to impromptu speaking success is: If you have no idea what to say, say something you do know how to say!


image: PopTech (Flickr)