The Major Types of Speeches Help (page 4)

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Updated on Jul 15, 2013

Making an Impromptu Speech at a Special Occasion

There will be times when someone will ask you to say a few words without advance notice, asking you to stand up right there and then to address the audience. This can seem terribly intimidating, but the same principles apply to an impromptu speech as to any other speech: Consider your audience, and speak about what you know.

This is another instance of the adage, "forewarned is fore-armed." If you are attending a special occasion where you might possibly be asked to speak, give some thought beforehand to what you would say. Better still, it is often good to take the bull by the horns and volunteer to say a few words. This prevents you from being caught off guard, makes you someone's hero who might otherwise have been asked to speak, and gives you practice at becoming a more confident speaker.

When you give a prepared speech, you will probably be working from a written speech or outline, and having your thoughts committed to paper gives you increased confidence. There is no reason for you not to use that same technique in an impromptu speech, even if you only have a few minutes to prepare. Ask yourself what the audience will want to hear, what tone is appropriate, and what basic facts you want to relate—then jot them down on a small piece of paper or napkin or whatever is handy. Having this cheat sheet in your hand or pocket will give you greater confidence as you get up to speak, because you'll already know what you're going to say.

One benefit of being asked to speak spontaneously is that you don't have a lot of time beforehand to get nervous! It also encourages you to be brief and to the point in your speech—which might be the very reason that people do it in the first place. Just remember that one of the most famous speeches in American history, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was very short and succinct, lasting only three minutes. You can move your audience just as effectively with a few words as you can with a lengthy prepared speech, so it's a good idea to keep impromptu words to a minimum.

What to Do

When making a speech at a special occasion, whether prepared or impromptu, the most important things are to be appropriate and stay focused. Remember that the whole reason for speaking is the occasion itself, so your thoughts should always remain centered on that occasion.

If you're speaking at a graduation ceremony, you'll probably be given at least 15 minutes in which to speak—but that is not an excuse to ramble around in your thoughts on a variety of topics. Most special occasion speeches will be shorter simply because the occasion calls for other activities besides listening to a speech. That's the point of special occasion speeches: Nobody came to the gathering in order to hear a speech, unlike other forums where you might be asked to speak. The audience is gathered to recognize a person or event, and you do not want your speech to interfere with that.

You will also want to speak clearly and loudly, topics that we'll discuss in detail in Lesson 13. On many special occasions, you will not have the luxury of a microphone or even visual aids. Your audience might be standing around in a drizzle by a grave side, or you might be addressing coworkers from the middle of a crowded hotel meeting room. You will want to be sure that everyone can hear you clearly and that everyone can see your face. If necessary, move to a prominent position, such as the front of the room or on a high point of land, so that everyone can see you and hear you.

What to Avoid

Be brief! As already mentioned, the audience has not gathered specifically to hear your speech. On most special occasions, your audience will welcome a few brief words from someone who has special knowledge about the person or event being commemorated, but the key word there is brief. As already stated, stay focused on your topic and keep your thoughts from rambling.

Avoid using humor that is inappropriate. This rule applies to all speeches, of course, but it can become a real pitfall in special occasion speeches simply because the special occasion may be a happy, family-oriented celebration of some sort, such as a birthday or wedding. There will be an atmosphere of joking and laughter in the air, and it can be tempting to let fly with some real zingers—especially if the audience is already predisposed to laugh at your witticisms. But there is always a fine line at any gathering between appropriate teasing and inappropriate or coarse jesting, and there is nothing worse for a public speaker than expecting a guffaw from the audience but getting a stunned silence instead. Remember our golden rule: When in doubt, leave it out!

Do not drink alcohol if you think you might be asked to speak. Again, this rule applies to all speech situations, but some special occasions may provide a much greater opportunity to forget the rule. Among the many adverse effects of alcohol is its effect on your ability to speak clearly. Just one drink can add a perceptible slur to your speech, even if you haven't overindulged. Alcohol is also notorious for bad judgment, and something that seems appropriate after a couple drinks will make you cringe in shame the next morning. Simply put, speaking and drinking don't mix.

The Major Types of Speeches Practice


Use this questionnaire to determine the direction of your speech:

  1. What is my goal in this speech?
    • Inform my audience (go to question 2)
    • Persuade my audience (go to question 3)
    • Teach my audience some skill (go to question 4)
    • Commemorate a special event (go to question 5)
  2. What facts do I want them to know? What will I need (visual aids, etc.) to convey those facts? (After filling in this information, go to question 6.)
  3. What opinion do I want to prove? What points of evidence will I provide? How will that evidence prove my thesis? (After filling in this information, go to question 6.)
  4. How exactly is this skill performed or learned? What steps are taken to accomplish it? What visual aids will I need to teach those steps? (After filling in this information, go to question 6.)
  5. Who or what is the reason my audience will be gathering? What facts do I want to discuss concerning that person or event? What anecdotes will I include?
  6. What research is needed? What information do I not know?
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