Impromtu Speaking – What to Say When You Don’t Know What To Say

WRITTEN August 20, 2015 Author: Rich Atkins

All the time, you are asked to speak without preparation. The phone rings, and you answer it. Whatever the prompt is on the other end of the line, when it’s your turn to speak, you will be presenting information WITHOUT ANY PREPARATION.

What should you do when you’re asked to speak on a topic and you don’t know what to say?

Respond by starting with a story that, on a gut level, you know is related to the topic. Trust your instincts here. You’ll be right, or make it right as you tell the story.

Announce the setting (where and when it took place) and begin to give the listeners some detail about the events.

When you tell your story, think about:

  • What do I believe about the topic?
  • What should people do as a result of what I have told them?

Impromptu Speaking
Impromptu Speaking: Being Put On The Spot

As you speak, steer the story to emphasize your belief, as well as the universal lesson that everyone can take from the experience you recounted. Make sure that you give the results of the action, so it will demonstrate the value of what you’re telling. Even though it is impromptu speaking, it can still be impactful.

Not sure of which example to use? Choose the most recent, biggest, or best example that you can recall.

Your topic is also the null topic, meaning that if you can’t think of a story to tell, ask yourself if you have an example of the opposite of your topic (like honesty versus dishonesty).


  1. Start with the evidence (the story—setting, action).
  2. Then, call your audience to action, based on the story you told. “People should _____ as a result of what I’ve told them” (universalize the concept).

An example:

Three years ago, when I was working at a different company, equipment repair was a significant cost to the business in both time and money We wasted thousands of dollars every year because of this. As a result, we decided to lease equipment instead of buying it, because maintenance and repair was included in the contract. In the first year alone, the business saved $20,000, company-wide on equipment, because it was newer and covered for all necessary repairs.

Therefore, at this company, start leasing the equipment we use to decrease spending, and increase efficiency.

So when you’re asked to talk about something you don’t know or don’t have preparation for, talk about what you do know. Tell a story that’s related to the subject matter and pull a lesson out of it. the more you try this, the better you will get at it.

This information is from the Improving Communications Public Speaking & Presentation Skills training classes curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your overall communication skills, register for one of our upcoming public classes in NYC.

Other Resources For Impromptu Speaking:

5 Tips for Off-the-cuff Speaking

How to Give an Impromptu Presentation

Stay Connected

Subscribe to the IC weekly newsletter for tips and advice on your communication skills!

Public Classes

Effective communication is empowering. Get started on your path to being more clear, brief, and effective.

Upcoming Classes