Learn How To Make An Off-The-Cuff Speech

The boss turns to you in a meeting and asks: What do you think? Or asks you to deliver spontaneous remarks or make a toast at an office gathering. Do you freeze on the spot? Ramble endlessly? Break into a nervous sweat?

Impromptu pitches, toasts and talks far outnumber planned presentations in the workplace. Performing poorly can do serious career damage.

“People get overwhelmed. They’re flooded with ideas and don’t know which path to take,” says Ben Decker, chief executive of Decker Communications, a San Francisco consulting and training firm. Some worry so much about performing perfectly that they are paralyzed by fear of failure. Others try to call up mental lists of facts or points, or fret about whether they are making a good impression rather than getting their message across.

But there is good news. You can learn to overcome these fears and prepare yourself for that speech.


  • Assume you’ll be asked to speak and always be ready.
  • Have in mind a simple three-part structure for your response.
  • Practice answering questions in informal settings, such as around the dinner table.
  • Be aware of your body language under stress and avoid misleading tells.
  • Treat your anxiety as a normal response and tell yourself: I’m excited.
  • Focus on what listeners want and need to know, rather than on yourself.
  • Speak in a conversational tone and avoid rushing.
  • Strive to convey information and meaning rather than to perform perfectly.
  • Ask trusted colleagues or mentors for feedback on how to improve


Published in WSJ by Sue Shellenbarger. Read the full article here.

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