“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” ~ Mark Twain
Speech Insight From an Olympic Champion
One evening, I watched an interview with Sage Kotsenburg. He was the Gold Medal winner of the slope-style snowboarding event in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
At one point, he said “I had no clue what I was going to do, even the day of the semis and the finals. I like changing it up a lot. I like just kind of making things different.”
I thought, “Wow, he thought up all those incredible moves on the spot!”
Upon further reflection, though, I realized what Sage was really saying. As a student of speaking, I know that no one ever stands up and has brilliant thoughts simply flow through them in a perfectly concise manner. Mark Twain — with his words above — brilliantly captured the essence of this idea.
The Key to Being Able to Change at the Last-Minute
The ability to eloquently share your thoughts — especially in impromptu situations — requires writing, practice, evaluation, and re-writing — then, repeat the process. and more practice.
As the old saying goes, “There is no substitute for work.”
This is the only way you can reach the point where you don’t need to think about what you’re going to say, because you are in the moment, focused on your audience.
Setting the Stage to be Impromptu
I believe that is what Sage Kotsenburg meant in his interview. It’s not possible that he tried brand new routines on the biggest stage in the world, with Olympic Gold on the line, and won the competition.
I’m convinced he had practiced those alternative routines, or elements of them, for years. This rehearsal gave him the confidence to employ these ‘new’ moves on-the-spot.
So, how can this help your next speech?
- Know your foundational message and material. Internalizing your talk is the first key.
- Rehearse and drill possible alternatives to your speech — stories, additional research, data, etc.
- Research your audience. Know what their needs are, and how you can best help.
- Walk onstage with more material than you need.
If you want the ability to “change it up a lot” or “make things different” in pressure situations, follow these steps. Only then will you be able to shine when your gold medal moment presents itself.
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