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.

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Greg Beaubien

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