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This chapter is from the book

How to Speak Extemporaneously and Make a Toast

My emphasis on simplicity now provides you with the ability to be called on to speak extemporaneously (even if for just a minute or two) and be asked to give a toast either on the spur of the moment or with advance notice. If you can focus on the idea that simplicity in thought and follow-through will help you manage either or both of these situations, you can meet either with more confidence than you ever thought. Let’s look at the situations.

Speaking Extemporaneously

First, the extemporaneous event. It could happen when you least expect it, which means people fear it most because they have no time to think or prepare or organize their thoughts. Of course everyone in the room is in the exact same position. However, I have a simple solution that if you learn and practice once or twice you could be the one person in the audience, who if called upon, will look like a polished professional speaker, and the rest of the crowd will sit there in awe.

Here is the simple solution. In any extemporaneous situation the person asking you to comment or to make a remark is using a technique of “audience involvement.” There are several reasons why a speaker would include the audience:

  • The speaker is looking for people to confirm and endorse his ideas. In terms of audience participation this is sometimes called “spectating.” In other words you are supposed to just agree with the speaker.

    It is completely up to you whether you go along and agree with the speaker’s point of view or choose your own position. Either choice has consequences, so you need to be prepared for each. The speaker is in control and depending on her style can make you look small or like a significant part of the event.

  • The speaker is looking for people to provide “enhanced engagement” to enrich his program that has just been delivered. The format involves the speaker moving to the audience and keeping control of the microphone. The speaker is looking for a quick creative idea or thought and generally only allows seconds for an audience member to get involved. These speakers are looking for approval and confirmation of their ideas.
  • The speaker is using the audience to “crowdsource” or troll for enhanced content to improve the program. This is a good opportunity to be as open and expressive as you wish.
  • The speaker is showing off and is trying to demonstrate her excellent skills with an amateur, trying to draw the audience member into the presentation, which of course, the speaker still controls.
  • The speaker has finished early and needs to use up time.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter to you if you have a microphone stuck in your face and have been asked to comment, give your opinion, or ask a question. At this moment the rest of the entire audience is breathing a sigh of relief that they were not asked. This makes them a friendly audience, and they are all rooting for you.

If you have been following the program contents, you should have some idea of your own opinion, feelings, world view, or beliefs on the topic. If called upon to make impromptu remarks, be ready to express these. This will help you know you have something worthwhile to say.

There is a rule of improvisational art, and it is never reject the premise. Accept what has been handed to you and work with it. Rejecting, resisting, overtly attempting to change the topic or subject only makes the situation more confusing and unsettling. Your resistance can make you look small, accepting makes you look professional and in control.

Here are the simple steps for the next one to two minutes (which may sound like a long time but in reality is a short time span).

  1. Stand and accept the microphone smiling all the time (don’t resist, shake your head, or hold up your hands). The speaker standing over you has a commanding position, and you can only look bad sitting and trying to hold off a request.
  2. Thank the speaker for the opportunity to say a few words to the wonderful people in attendance today, move slightly away from the speaker. (You are choosing your own speaking space; it shows strength.) Keep smiling.
  3. Look out into the audience (not at the speaker). Keep smiling.
  4. There are a number of models you can use on which to build a one- to two- minute response to any question or comment concerning politics, economics, social issues, education, business, family, religion, philosophy, physics, money, immigration, taxation, sports, music, social media, or any other topic.

Pick something, anything that you can use as a sequential memory device to help you organize your thoughts. And don’t just think of the object, visualize it as well. Here are some examples:

  • Colors—Red, yellow, green (red=stop, yellow=slow, green = go). For example, visualize a stop light traffic signal and select the colors.
  • Geometric designs—Box, circle, triangle (box=even sides but no easy exits; circle=smooth sides, easy access; triangle=strong base, difficult assent; see Figure 1.1).

    Figure 1.1

    Figure 1.1 Memory aid: Divide your subject or thoughts into threes or triads

  • Seasons—Summer, winter, fall.
  • Distance—Far off, middle, nearby.
  • Numbers—Fractions, single digits, multiple numbers.
  • Heights—Low, medium, high.
  • The room you’re in—Back, middle, front, or the floor, tables, ceiling.

The options are nearly endless. You can select anything that comes to your mind from your past experience or whatever you feel most comfortable with. The point is to have in your repertoire one or two models that use the sequence formula that you have practiced several times. Then when the time comes that you’re called upon to make extemporaneous comments or remarks you perform like a pro.

A quick scenario will help. Let’s say you are in an audience where the speaker has been discussing his views on the negative impact of the loss of traffic ticket revenue earmarked for local public schools from digital traffic cameras that have been recently removed as a result of significant consumer complaints.

The speaker makes a claim that the community position has harmed the future of the children and puts the microphone in front of you asking for your opinion.

Following the “be simple” model, you stand smiling, take the microphone, and step away from the speaker looking into the audience.

Assume for this scenario that you disagree with the speaker’s position. You thank the speaker for the opportunity to comment:

  • “Thank you Ms. _______ for the opportunity to comment on this important issue. We all feel it is important, which is why we are here today. [15 seconds have already elapsed.]
  • Like many issues we must face, this one has different perspectives and shapes and those are like geometric shapes.
  • Some points are like a box, many sided; some arguments appear to be strong but when examined closely they are quite contained and difficult to escape into the full light to be examined. We need to spend more time turning these around and around looking at the edges and sides, top and bottom. It is like solving Rubik’s cube—very difficult. It can be done, but it’s not easy. It requires more time.
  • Other points are like circles; they seem smooth and well thought out, easy to access. All the arguments for and against seem to have equal opportunity for all to see so the proper decision can be made.
  • Other points are like triangles; there appears to be a firm base, solid and established evidence for one point of view. However, as time goes on evidence and information seems to cause less and less support until eventually there is very little support at the point where the decision has to be made.
  • It appears to me as though the community has seen this decision as a triangle, and this is where we are—at the point.”

[Depending on how many pauses you put in, nearly 1:30 seconds have elapsed.]

Here is a scenario using color:

  • “The question we are dealing with has many subtle variations like a color palette. On one hand, the darker shades of red (metaphor/simile) are those that need more light shed on them to help us see the answers. On the other hand, the lighter more colorful shades of the issue such as yellow seem clear and direct. Unfortunately, like a painter’s palette the issues we must deal with have many shades and many subtleties that require our concerted thought leadership. Real leaders, however, see green and just go toward solutions and answers.

Of course, any short quote or saying is a great way to begin or end.

Oh yes, the final step: Hand the microphone back to the speaker (whose mouth will be hanging open in amazement) and sit down with a coy smile. If you want to add a slight flair drop the microphone on the table and sit.

Making a Toast Extemporaneously

If you’re invited to give a toast extemporaneously, consider it an honor. The host believes you, over all the other guests, are the most talented, gifted, or gracious and should have the honor. So, rather than feel put upon or resentful, you should feel proud to have been selected.

Unlike a member of an audience in which a speaker has asked for a comment, a request for you to give a toast provides you a little more time to gather a few thoughts and think of your theme.

These are the steps to make a successful and memorable toast:

  • Accept the invitation graciously.
  • Smile.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Use the same sequential memory technique as described previously to help you organize your thoughts.
  • Example: “I’ve known [the honoree] for a long time and as time passes like seasons, memories of [the honoree] have different impacts. I remember meeting the [the honoree] in the spring of our careers. Our careers and jobs were in bloom and [honoree’s] life was in full blossom. I had the pleasure to watch [honoree’s] life and career move into full summer where he/she had great success and grew as a person and professional. Now in the winter of his/her life he/she is not planning on hibernating but looking forward to the next spring and making new goals. Here is to those endeavors.”
  • Keep it short. The best toast is less than 3 minutes; 1 minute is the best.
  • Make sure to mention the honoree’s name, but do not look at him or her until the toast is complete.
  • Do not offer embarrassing, private, or secret information about the honoree.
  • Do not clink glasses with the honoree (unless the toast is in a beer garden or bar).
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