PR Training

Overcoming the Terror of Impromptu Public Speaking

If your boss asks you to deliver spontaneous remarks at a work event, will you be ready?

As The Wall Street Journal reported, impromptu pitches, toasts and talks far outnumber planned presentations in the workplace. Being asked to speak extemporaneously terrifies one in four Americans, according to Chapman University’s annual fear survey. But new research offers strategies for turning anxiety over unrehearsed public speaking to your advantage.

According to a recent review of 22 studies on workplace anxiety in the Journal of Applied Psychology, interpreting anxiety as an energizing force and telling yourself, “I am excited,” will make your off-the-cuff speech seem more confident and persuasive.

“Rather than striving for greatness, challenge yourself to just accomplish the task at hand,” says Matt Abrahams, a lecturer in organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Start with a positive emotion, such as “I was really excited when you asked that.” Approach improvised remarks with a three-part structure: State the problem, describe the solution and then summarize its benefits.


This article first appeared in the February 2019 “Storytelling & Writing” issue of Strategies & Tactics.

Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s publications.

About the author

Greg Beaubien


  • I have the biggest fear of public speaking. I think it’s because I’m scared about if I’m right or not. I think it all comes with confidence. I think that is such an awesome idea. Next time I have to speak in front of people I will keep this in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  • This blog gives some very good insight into public speaking. As a young professional and undergraduate student, the topic of this blog is very important for people like myself to read. Public speaking is a task that almost all people fear, and it takes a lot of practice and preparation to overcome that fear. This posts gives a good piece of advice that I’ve never heard anyone else give before, to use the anxiety that public speaking causes to the advantage and turn that anxiety into excitement and energy. I think this could be extremely beneficial, but also very difficult to master. It may be hard for people to get to a point where they are able to get a clear head to work through it and actually improve their public speaking skills. Possibly giving a specific technique to turn that anxiety into energy would be more beneficial.

Leave a Comment