How to Handle Pressure in an Impromptu Speech: Preparation is the Key! (Part 1)
Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut, once described the experience of what goes on in one’s mind before being launched into space at speeds of up to 18,000 miles per hour. There’s no way to park your rocket on the side of the road if something goes wrong. You can’t even jump out with a parachute. You’re trapped. So how did he handle this pressure not knowing what would happen? Preparation. The key to handling pressure according to Chris is to come as prepared as you can. This will make you feel familiar with the environment you’re in and prevent surprises.
In the same way, in order to deliver a good impromptu speech, it helps to prepare. Even though you can’t predict what you will talk about, you can practice how you say it. This is your delivery. In this article, you’ll learn how to use gestures, stage movement, and pace to prepare you to deliver a smooth and relaxed performance, no matter what your topic is.
The first technique when performing under pressure is to keep your hand gestures simple and purposeful. It’s important to be aware that hand gestures are extensions to your words. They are the animators, while your voice is the narrator. This means that too many gestures are distracting. Too few make your delivery stiff, while gestures that are too fast show you’re nervous. There are three gestures often seen in impromptu speaking that you can practice:
· One: The box gesture. There are few ways this can be done. One common way is to take both hand in front of you and pretend you’re holding a box. Anytime you have a subject that requires emphasizing, you move your imaginary box up and then down. This box can also change in size. For instance, if you’re speaking about a big or dramatic event like the destruction of people’s livelihood as a result of years of war, your box might be the same width as your shoulders. This could also be done one-handed, making it more like a chopping gesture.
· Two: The wrist roll gesture. Your hand will start palms down and slowly roll over until your palm is facing up. This is suggestive motion is helpful for when you want to transition to a new idea or share with the audience a new
perspective. It would look something like this: “…which leaves him to believe that we are more than ants to be crushed.” If you noticed what I just did there, a wrist roll gesture can turn from a suggestive movement to an emphatic one afterwards.
· And third: The sliding gesture. This is a descriptive gesture where you take one or both hands and start from the left or the right side of your body and slide it in the opposite direction. It’s meant to show a change in the situation or a comparison of ideas. Your hand could be open with palms up or down as you do this. You could even have your thumb and index fingers touching to make an “okay” sign as you slide from one side to the other. This sliding gesture is quite common in impromptu because the whole point of this event is to connect your prompt back to your stories, which means there are a lot of comparisons being made.
It’s important to practice these gestures whenever you’re talking. In order to make your gestures appear natural, see if you can incorporate all three of these gestures into your life at least once a day!
Now that you’ve learned how gestures can help you deliver a smoother speech under pressure, in the second part of this article, you’ll learn how stage movements and pace can also help with this.