Extemporaneous Speaking: The Basics, Think Fast, Speak Well

Extemporaneous speaking, or “extemp,” is a form of speech delivery that involves speaking with limited preparation. It’s not entirely impromptu, as you may have some time to prepare, but it’s not a memorized or read speech either. It’s a skill that’s highly valued in various fields, especially in business, where unexpected opportunities to speak can arise.

In the business world, the ability to speak extemporaneously is essential. Whether it’s an unexpected elevator pitch to a potential investor or last-minute remarks to a sales team, the demands are diverse and often terrifying for many. As John Coleman highlights in his article on Harvard Business Review, many people fear public speaking more than death, making the mastery of this skill crucial.

The Key Elements

The key elements of extemporaneous speaking include preparation, organization, delivery, impromptu thinking, and the ability to adapt to unexpected questions or challenges.


  • Understanding the Subject: Know your speech topic inside and out.
  • Utilizing Reliable Sources: Research from credible sources to gather accurate information.
  • Creating a Timeline: Plan your research, writing, practice, and editing phases.

Gathering relevant information is vital. Focus on the main points that support your argument or theme.

Consider different viewpoints on the topic to present a well-rounded speech.


  • Organize your speech into clear sections: an engaging introduction, a body with main points and subpoints, and a memorable conclusion.
  • Outline your speech to ensure a logical flow of ideas.
  • Use transitions to connect your main points smoothly.


  • Eye contact helps you connect with your audience.
  • Gestures and body language add emphasis and expression to your words.
  • Speak clearly and confidently to convey your message effectively.
  • Control your pacing and tone to suit the content and audience.

Impromptu Thinking

  • Quick thinking is essential for handling unexpected questions or challenges.
  • Be prepared to adapt your speech on the fly.
  • Incorporate personal anecdotes to make your speech more relatable.

Pro Tip: Use a proven structure every time you speak extemporaneously. It helps in delivering a coherent and impactful speech.

Steps to Excel in Extemporaneous Speaking

Step Description
Selecting Your Approach Choose between informative and persuasive speaking; identify your audience.
Topic Selection Pick a relevant and interesting topic; narrow down the focus.
Research Techniques Utilize reliable sources; take concise notes; avoid information overload.
Building the Speech Craft an introduction; structure the body; create a conclusion.

Overcoming Challenges

Extemporaneous Speaking stage


Feeling nervous before speaking is a common experience, but it doesn’t have to hinder your performance.

  • Tips for Managing Pre-Speech Anxiety: Visualization techniques, such as imagining a successful speech, can calm nerves. Practicing deep breathing and positive self-talk can also help.
  • Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: Engage in deep breathing exercises, focusing on inhaling and exhaling slowly. This can help calm both the mind and body.

Pro Tip: Remember, a little nervousness can actually enhance your performance by keeping you alert and energized.

Time Management

Managing time effectively ensures that your speech is concise and fits within the allotted time.

  • Ensuring Your Speech Fits Within the Time Limit: Rehearse your speech with a timer to ensure you stay within the time frame.
  • Practicing Pacing and Adjustments: Learn to adjust your speech’s pacing based on audience reactions and feedback. If you notice people losing interest, you may need to speed up or skip less important points.

Fun Fact: Great speakers often practice with different time constraints to become adaptable in various situations.

Handling Unfamiliar Topics

Extemporaneous Speaking debate

Speaking on unfamiliar topics can be challenging, but with the right strategies, you can handle them with confidence.

  • Strategies for Quick Topic Comprehension: Listen actively to understand the topic, ask clarifying questions if needed, and relate the topic to something you know.
  • Using General Knowledge to Your Advantage: Even if the topic is unfamiliar, you can draw on your existing knowledge and experiences to provide insights.

Pro Tip: Keep up with current events and industry news. This broad knowledge base can help you speak intelligently on a wide range of topics.

Overcoming Technical Difficulties

Technical issues can disrupt a speech, but being prepared can minimize their impact.

  • Have a Backup Plan: If using technology, always have a backup plan in case of failure. This might include printed notes or visuals.
  • Stay Calm and Adapt: If something goes wrong, stay calm and adapt. Your audience will remember your poise more than the technical glitch.

Dealing with Difficult Questions

Extemporaneous Speaking questions

Handling challenging questions from the audience can be intimidating, but preparation and poise can turn this into an opportunity.

  • Prepare for Common Questions: Think about potential questions in advance and prepare thoughtful answers.
  • Acknowledge and Redirect: If you don’t know the answer, acknowledge it and redirect to what you do know or promise to follow up later.

Pro Tip: Practice handling difficult questions with a friend or colleague. This practice can make you more comfortable and adept in real situations.


How do I choose the right topic for my extemporaneous speech?

Choose a topic you’re passionate about and familiar with. Ensure it’s relevant to your audience.

Can I use visual aids during an extemporaneous speech?

Yes, visual aids can enhance your speech, but ensure they complement rather than distract from your message.

What should I do if I forget a point while speaking?

Stay calm, take a deep breath, and move on to the next point. You can circle back later if you remember.

How can I improve my impromptu speaking skills?

Practice regularly, seek feedback, and participate in speaking clubs like Toastmasters.

Is memorization a good idea for extemporaneous speeches?

While it’s good to know your content, relying solely on memorization can make your speech sound rehearsed. Focus on understanding and internalizing your message.

How do I engage the audience effectively during my speech?

Use anecdotes, ask questions, and maintain eye contact to engage and connect with your audience.

What are some famous examples of great extemporaneous speeches?

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches are classic examples.

Can extemporaneous speaking skills benefit me outside of public speaking events?

Absolutely! These skills are valuable in business meetings, job interviews, and everyday conversations.


Mastering extemporaneous speaking is more than just a skill; it’s an art form that opens doors to personal and professional growth. The ability to speak confidently and coherently without a script is invaluable in today’s fast-paced world.

From handling unexpected business opportunities to engaging in meaningful conversations, extemporaneous speaking equips you with the tools to express yourself authentically and persuasively.

I encourage you to take these steps to heart, engage in regular practice, and seek opportunities to speak. Remember, every speech is a chance to grow, inspire, and make a lasting impact. Your voice matters, and the world is ready to hear it.