How to Master (or at Least Not Bomb) Short, Impromptu Speeches

Jake Wilder
5 min readOct 20, 2022

Six Easy Tips to Avoid Public Embarrassment

Photo: iStock

Everyone’s staring at me, and I don’t know what to do.

I’m standing in front of maybe twenty-five technicians, and I’m supposed to give an impromptu speech. No one told me I was going to be doing this. I had nothing prepared and my mind was a complete blank. Although I suppose it was my fault for agreeing when asked.

“Would you mind giving a quick speech to the workers, it would mean a lot for them to hear your thoughts on the work they do?” asked the director.

I was touring one of our suppliers and hadn’t planned on giving a speech. But why not, I thought to myself. How hard could it be to stand in front of some people and talk for five or ten minutes?

As it turns out, very hard.

I don’t have many moments where I look back on my career and visibly cringe, but that was definitely one of them. It’s difficult to explain just how humiliating this was.

I stumbled over my words and rambled on with no coherent message. I can pretty much guarantee that no one left there inspired or even mildly impressed. No surprise that that company never again asked me to speak to their workers.

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to prepare and speak in front of a large audience. But most of us aren’t giving TED talks every month. Instead, we’re thrown into situations where we need to speak to small groups for a few minutes, often with little time to prepare.

Here are a couple tips that helped me get better at giving short, impromptu speeches — and avoid repeating that disaster in the time since.

1. Keep It Simple

There’s always a temptation to try and cram as much as possible into your time but remember that people are only going to remember two or three things. Decide on those two or three key points that you want people to take away and focus on fitting that into whatever time you have.

One trick is to take a minute and decide on one key message — If nothing else, I want people to understand _____________.

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Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.